Editorial Roundup: U.S.

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

July 4

The Philadelphia Inquirer on America’s founders and the right to debate critical race theory:

As we celebrate this July Fourth while still tentatively emerging from the worst throes of the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s hard not to feel the weight of this year’s challenges. Foundational elements of the American experiment have been questioned from multiple directions. Rightly, the murder of George Floyd reignited a conversation about a myth of a nation built on the idea that “all men are created equal.” Wrongly, the former president and his Republican backers attempted to delegitimize the American electoral process by pushing the Big Lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

An extremely concerning development is the use of laws prohibiting speech in an attempt to end debates. Numerous state legislatures across the country, including Pennsylvania’s, have introduced bills to ban the teaching of critical race theory, a decades-old academic philosophy that explores the intersections of white supremacy with power structures in American society.

Put more succinctly, these bills seek to ban ideas.

As an editorial board and opinion department, we understand how hard it is to engage with perspectives that you disagree with, or that you see as hateful or immoral. We experience this daily, as we elevate pieces from a wide variety of perspectives, some of which this board agrees with and some we don’t. We do this because being exposed to ideas that are different from our own is a fundamental part of American democracy.

In June, Pennsylvania joined 25 other states where lawmakers introduced a bill banning teaching of critical race theory, often conflating it with broader discussions of racism in America. The Republican bill prohibits any public school or college from teaching, hosting a speaker, or assigning a reading that promotes any “racist or sexist concept” — or risk losing funding. Of course, “racist or sexist concept” is extremely broad language in a manner that seems to include, for example, a reading about affirmative action. The bill also explicitly bans discussion of the idea that, “The United States of America or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is fundamentally racist or sexist.”

The bill, arguably a violation of the First Amendment, should be taken as a serious threat. In nine states measures restricting how race or gender is discussed in schools have already been signed into law.

What is most troubling about this legislation is that it is precisely the opposite of what our forefathers risked their lives to enshrine in our nation’s founding documents. Our Founders so valued the importance of airing ideas — even controversial ones — that they spelled out their protection in the First Amendment.

The ability to freely discuss and debate ideas is part of what allows America, even with all our flaws, to continue and improve itself: from abolitionists to suffragettes to freedom riders, all of whom expressed speech that was extremely unpopular at its time, but ultimately pushed America to be better.

Being exposed to ideas you disagree with — or find abhorrent — is a right, and an American privilege. Just days ago, Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy newspaper was shut down and journalists were arrested, as Chinese government leaders attempt to quash dissent.

This board has criticized institutions, from the police to the Mummers, as racist and believes that exploring the systemic racism in our nation — today and during its founding — is part of a well-rounded education. But even if we disagreed with the content of critical race theory and related ideas, we’d still encourage them, because grappling with ideas you disagree with is healthy. Engaging in a vigorous exchange of ideas can strengthen our own views, or lead us to accept new ones. That’s a lesson worth teaching everyone in America.

Our forefathers lived in revolutionary times, and perhaps they could not have envisioned the polarization today. But we, too, are living in a revolutionary time. In Philadelphia and across the country, we saw a brave and fervent uprising in 2020, born of hundreds of years of anger over systemic racism in policing. The result has not yet been a new or perfect nation, but changes are happening, ones we would not have seen without the protected free speech of the millions who raised their voices on the streets last June.

Allowing Americans to debate and air a plethora of ideas — including critical race theory — is central to what the men (of course they were all men) who founded our great nation envisioned, on July Fourth and every day.

ONLINE: https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/editorials/critical-race-theory-pennsylvania-debate-20210704.html

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July 2

The Wall Street Journal on the finality of Trump losing Michigan:

Donald Trump says fraud is the only reason he lost the 2020 election. Some even think Mr. Trump will be reinstated once the truth comes out. Anyone who finds this narrative at all appealing should take 30 minutes to read the investigative report posted last week by Michigan Republicans. It’s only 35 pages.

The report is from the GOP state Senate’s Oversight Committee, which synthesized testimony from about 90 people, plus thousands of pages of subpoenaed documents. The committee’s chair, Ed McBroom, was a Trump delegate at the 2016 GOP national convention, and in 2019 he was a guest at the White House, looking on while Mr. Trump signed an executive order.

While the report identifies “clear weaknesses in our elections system that require legislative remedy,” it is unsparing about misinformation and innuendo. As Democrats regained power after the 2016 election, Mr. McBroom writes, “they were quick to utilize all of it to spend two years chasing every conspiracy and specious allegation.” He adds: “I pray my own party will not repeat this mistake for the next four years.”

The committee investigated 200 alleged dead voters. Only two problems were found. One was “a clerical error” involving a father and son with the same name. The other was an absentee ballot submitted by a 92-year-old, who then died four days before the election. That bad ballot should not have slipped through, though the report says 3,500 similar votes were caught.

Detroit’s counting center received deliveries of ballots at 3:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., but the inquiry found no evidence of fraud. A purportedly suspicious picture “was a photo of a WXYZ-TV photographer hauling his equipment.” Also, look at the numbers: Voter turnout in Wayne County (Detroit) was up only 11.4% last year, compared with 15.4% in the rest of Michigan, which hardly sounds like a dump of fake ballots. President Trump received a higher share of Wayne County’s vote in 2020 than in 2016.

Many claims seem to stem from confusion by observers. Workers at Detroit’s counting center didn’t need to examine ballot signatures, the report says, because that task had been done elsewhere. Detroit’s tabulators weren’t connected to the internet, but they were on a local network, which “would create the same icon.”

If it looked as if some ballots were being fed through a scanner more than once, here’s a boring reason: “Ballots go through the tabulator so quickly that a simple jam or other error necessitates the entire bundle being restarted.” Double counting would be obvious, as “the pollbook would show that many more votes were cast than the number of people obtaining a ballot.”

Antrim County’s error last year in misreporting its unofficial vote tallies was explained only days later, yet two months ago Mr. Trump was cheering a “bombshell” legal demand for another audit. A judge has since rejected that. The committee’s inquiry backed up the benign story: The county clerk’s computer “was not updated” to reflect late changes to the ballot in certain areas, so the data “did not transfer into their respective spreadsheet columns correctly.”

The printouts from the tabulators were accurate, however, as validated in “a complete hand recount.” The committee says it’s “appalled at what can only be deduced as a willful ignorance or avoidance of this proof.” It suggests Michigan’s Attorney General consider “investigating those who have been utilizing misleading and false information about Antrim County to raise money or publicity for their own ends.”

The report also gives recommendations for reform. It says officials should be barred from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications. It calls for clarifying “the rights and duties of challengers and poll watchers.” It suggests that ballot drop boxes be closed earlier than 8 p.m. on Election Day, so that collecting their contents does not push the counting “so long into the night.”

Mr. Trump’s response was predictable. He called the inquiry “a cover up,” while repeating the same nonsense about Detroit and Antrim County. Apparently Mr. Trump didn’t actually read the report, but other Republicans should give it a look. The GOP could make real gains in Michigan next year, including replacing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. But it won’t happen if the party spends the next year peering down a rabbit hole of 2020 conspiracy theories.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/yes-trump-really-did-lose-michigan-11625265004

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July 6

The Huntington (W.Va.) Herald-Dispatch on Supreme Court ruling and lesser-known athletes:

At first glance, the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing college student-athletes to profit from their names, images and their likenesses allows high-profile athletes to sign endorsement contracts and make good money from their athletic endeavors.

Maybe, but the decision has another benefit for a Marshall University football player.

As related by The Herald-Dispatch Sports Editor Grant Traylor, the Supreme Court decision is helping offensive lineman Will Ulmer launch his music career.

“Obviously, football is something that really means a lot to me,” Ulmer told Traylor. “It’s something I’ve really been passionate about my whole life, but so has music. I feel like football has always overshadowed it in that way. Now that I am at the college level, music is something I’m really passionate about and it’s not something I’ve been able to fairly pursue, I feel like.

“I just think this is big because it gives me an opportunity to use my name and my likeness to do something that I love and enjoy doing.”

It’s not that this thought popped into Ulmer’s mind after the court issued its ruling last month. Ulmer had already started his career via social media and on stage.

Due to NCAA rules pertaining to collegiate athletes profiting from name, image and likeness, Ulmer hadn’t been able to use his own name on stage, promote his shows or accept any monetary payment for appearances.

It was one of few ways that Ulmer felt being a student-athlete actually hindered him, Traylor wrote.

“Being on scholarship and being a student-athlete has tons and tons of benefits, but it (did) seem unfair,” Ulmer said. “I didn’t think that because I played football, I should have any lesser opportunities off the field financially.”

With the new rules, Ulmer is able to establish his brand using his name and image, which he feels is paramount to success in the industry, Traylor wrote.

And that is why the court ruling is such a game changer. Sure, the Heisman Trophy hopefuls will cash in, but college athletics is more than about the athletes with national name recognition. It’s about the guys on the offensive line, the women playing volleyball or that last reserve on the basketball team being able to launch their after-college careers. Most of them won’t play sports professionally. This ruling opens doors to them that had been closed.

Big-time college sports gave up its claim to being an amateur activity when the big money came rolling in from broadcast rights and other sources. This ruling will bring its own set of problems, but that doesn’t do away with the fact it was long overdue.

It does give athletes such as Ulmer the opportunities that have been wrongly denied them.

ONLINE: https://www.herald-dispatch.com/opinion/editorial-court-ruling-helps-lesser-known-athletes-too/article_12bb60bd-42e7-569b-832a-44a90d282284.html

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July 6

The Dallas Morning News on probing for the truth about UFOs:

When it comes to UFOs, we don’t know the right answer. The truth is still out there.

And it may be out there for a while. A new federal government report on UFOs couldn’t explain 143 of 144 military aviation encounters, which the government, never one to pass up the opportunity to create a clumsy acronym, now calls UAP, short for Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. The one explainable encounter? A large, deflating balloon.

We didn’t expect the brief, unclassified report to include selfies of a little green guy from another world at a Texas Rangers game. Heck, folks are still looking for Sasquatch and Nessie. Good luck with those searches, too.

That leaves us pretty much where we have always been — believing whatever we want to believe.

According to a Gallup Poll in 2019, one-third of Americans believe that UFOs are alien spacecraft visiting Earth from other planets or galaxies. Still, 60% also think these sightings can be explained by human activity or natural phenomena. And while bipartisanship is a mystery in Washington, it isn’t regarding alien encounters. About 30% of Republicans and 32% of Democrats believe in spacecraft from other planets.

The belief in UFOs plays into the expanse of human imagination. For decades, movies and popular culture spotlighted one of two themes — the friendly extraterrestrial or the fleet of militaristic visitors intent on destroying all humans. Since at least the 1940s, just about any phenomena in the sky has been labeled a “flying saucer,” cultural shorthand for hopes and fears of how earthly mortals fit into a wider universe. With uncertainty come conspiracies, fantasies and imagining a reality beyond ourselves.

Nonetheless, the possibility that life exists elsewhere drives our exploration of space and encourages additional inquiry and interpretation. Astronomers estimate that we share the Milky Way galaxy with 300 million habitable worlds. So why can’t these be homes for intelligent life and advanced technology? Or so we speculate.

Without a doubt, the report erases some of the stigma of aviators talking openly about unexplained radar and visual encounters of the close kind. But will we know for sure anytime soon? Don’t bet on it. Much of our own planet remains a mystery, let alone oddities in the skies. And not having the scientific tools to explain an anomaly only means that we’ll have more questions than we have hard evidence.

Yes, the truth is still out there and may be out there for a long time to come.

ONLINE: https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorials/2021/07/06/from-ufos-to-uaps-is-et-real/

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July 5

The Minneapolis Star Tribune on the horror of Indian boarding schools felt in U.S., too:

First came the discovery of more than 200 unmarked graves at a burial site on a former Indian boarding school property in British Columbia. Then, just weeks later, came an even more appalling revelation: another 751 graves found at another former Indian school in Saskatchewan.

The graves are reminders of a horrific period in history when Indian children were removed from their families, sometimes by force, and packed into what in Canada, typically, were church-run residential schools. Thousands went missing. It is only now that we are beginning to learn the sad fate some of them met.

News of the mass graves has been agonizing for the Indigenous people of Canada, but the impact has also rippled out to tribal nations across the United States. Indian boarding schools represent a particularly shameful chapter in this country’s treatment of Native Americans. The schools were intended to sever children from everything familiar to them: families, tribes, culture, language, religion.

“This has been heart-wrenching for all of us,” Melanie Benjamin, chief of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, told an editorial writer. “It’s been very emotional for many Indian people in this country. If you look at the history of American Indians in this country, it’s not a good history. It’s been tragedy on tragedy, imposed on us over generations.”

There is no evidence to date that the atrocities that occurred at boarding schools in Canada also occurred here. But it should be noted that the graves in Canada were not discovered by accident. It’s been 20 years since the search for remains started at the Kamloops school (one of Canada’s largest) in British Columbia. It wasn’t until a tribe brought in ground-penetrating radar that the graves were found.

It makes sense for the U.S. to embark on a similar effort, given the parallels in the two nations. We applaud U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland for creating the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, which will seek to identify possible burial sites. During a recent address to the National Congress of American Indians, Haaland, who is Indian, said she knew the process would be long, difficult and painful. “It won’t undo the heartbreak and loss that so many of us feel. But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace.”

Benjamin said tribal leaders in Minnesota will gather on Wednesday in Hinckley to begin processing the latest tragedy. “It’s devastating news,” she said. “It hurts. When you think about how many of our grandparents attended these types of boarding schools. They took away our language, our religion, no respect for treaty rights. That’s still happening. When does it stop? But first we need to start with a better understanding of the historical perspective of the boarding schools.”

To that end, Benjamin said the gathering will feature a noted expert on the schools, Brenda Child, a professor at the University of Minnesota and member of the Red Lake Nation. Child, speaking to an editorial writer, said she has studied Indian boarding schools her entire career. “I always knew there were terrible stories that came out of Kamloops,” she said. “I feel like there’s a lot to learn and understand.”

The search in Canada has been a long one, but ultimately a nation is better for dealing forthrightly with its past. The U.S. is right to start that process here.

ONLINE: https://www.startribune.com/indian-burial-sites-in-canada-trigger-grief-here/600075247/

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July 5

The Guardian view on Afghanistan withdrawal and an uncertain Pakistan:

By bringing home US troops from Afghanistan, and leading NATO and allied forces out of the country, the U.S. president, Joe Biden, is acting on his campaign trail argument that American “forever wars” distract from more pressing issues at home. While the effect of the withdrawal will be felt most keenly in Afghanistan, where there are justifiable fears that the Taliban are poised to reclaim power, the broader question Mr. Biden poses is for neighbouring nuclear-armed Pakistan and the role that it wants to play in the region.

Bluntly, there is little trust between Washington and Islamabad despite Pakistan being a frontline state in America’s longest war. Mr. Biden served as vice-president to Barack Obama, who in his memoir, A Promised Land, wrote that he had preferred not to involve Pakistan in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in 2011 because it was an “open secret” that elements inside Pakistan’s military, and especially its intelligence services, “maintained links to the Taliban and perhaps even al-Qaida, sometimes using them as strategic assets to ensure that the Afghan government remained weak and unable to align itself with Pakistan’s number one rival, India”.

In Pakistan’s defence, it might be said that the past is another country. It says that it no longer provides any haven for terrorists or seeks to radicalise Muslim opinion with which it has influence. Pakistan has undoubtedly been the victim of terror attacks and shelters millions of refugees. Yet there was no disguising the anger of the Biden administration when, after eight days in office, Pakistan’s supreme court ordered the release of the man convicted in 2002 of orchestrating the abduction and killing of Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter.

Pakistan is an army with a country attached. Imran Khan serves as prime minister. But it is the chief of army staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who calls most of the shots. The general has had a phone call from Mr Biden’s secretary of defence. After it, the army chief pledged to “bury the past” with India. Mr. Khan has yet to be rung up by the White House. That may be because Washington had wanted to pressure Pakistan into granting the CIA a base in the country to launch drone strikes against the Taliban. The U.S. was kicked out of its last Pakistani facility in 2011. Last month, Mr. Khan wrote an op-ed quashing the idea that the US could regain a military foothold in the country.

The ever-growing risks of a Taliban takeover will shape the region’s dynamics. Not least because decades ago they subjected the country to a reign of pious Sunni terror. Adjoining Iran sponsored an armed resistance. A Taliban regime in Kabul gave Pakistan the idea that it could control Afghanistan and acquire the “strategic depth” needed to challenge India. Since then, China has drawn closer to Islamabad. New Delhi, faced with a hostile Beijing, has attempted to improve relations with Pakistan. Mr Biden knows that Afghanistan is known as a “graveyard of empires” for good reason. He wants his foreign policy to mark a break with the past and face the challenges of the future. But turning points only work out if one knows where to turn.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jul/05/the-guardian-view-on-afghanistan-withdrawal-a-retreat-into-uncertainty

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