Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Des Moines (Iowa) Register on threats against election workers and democracy:
Bizarre threats toward public officials, and even violent acts, have been part of the news for many years. Typically they’re shrugged off as aberrations.
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That blasé approach is increasingly out of touch with the frequency of today’s frightening threats.
Even before the 2020 election season and its seemingly perpetual aftermath, public officials endured heightened risks of threats of violence and actual violence. It was easy to make this seem OK by attributing the occurrences to people with acute need for mental health treatment. After all, there’s nothing at all proportionate about hurting someone because of a traffic ticket or a tax increase, whether or not the imposition is just. This thinking downplays real problems — mental health care is inadequate; public employees don’t deserve to fear for their lives just for doing their jobs — but we mostly just shrugged. Even when the worst happens — an Iowa mayor is murdered, a congresswoman is shot, a federal judge’s son is killed — everybody else just moves on.
The landscape has changed. Reuters in a series of stories has identified dozens of phone and digital messages to American election workers that law experts said could be considered criminal. Yet in many cases, there was little evidence that law enforcement had pursued the matters with any vigor, with some spokespersons pointing to the breadth of the First Amendment’s protections for political speech. In one instance, Reuters reporters said they quickly located a caller whom officers in Vermont had called “essentially untraceable.”
John Keller, a senior Department of Justice attorney leading a federal task force created over the summer, addressed those issues in a speech to secretaries of state who gathered in Des Moines for a conference in August.
Constant threats toward public employees are themselves a threat to democracy.
He called the government’s reactions inadequate and said that “there have been plenty of incidents where there is no political sheen that’s been added, threats that are very explicit in nature targeting people like yourselves and your family members.”
Here in Iowa, after state Rep. Ross Wilburn criticized President Donald Trump and his supporters in these pages last month, he quickly received numerous threats, one saying he should be lynched. Police continue to investigate.
Although it’s dangerous to extrapolate from anecdotes, a question at a Turning Point USA rally in Idaho on Oct. 25 is frighteningly difficult to ignore: “When do we get to use the guns? … I mean, literally, where’s the line? How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?” The presenter, Charlie Kirk, tepidly rebuked the questioner on the grounds that saying such things publicly could help liberals justify intrusions on freedom.
It bears mentioning — in anticipation of indignant replies of “Well, what about Black Lives Matter riots?” — that:
— Only one group of political activists has invaded the seat of American government recently.
— “Riots” is a wholly incorrect description of the vast majority of social justice protests.
— It’s easy to distinguish between petitioning the government and threatening the physical safety of your political opponents — hysterical overreactions of some Iowa Republicans to summer 2020 protests in Des Moines notwithstanding.
At least three things are needed in response to all this.
1. Call out the lies
One is for people with an audience, such as Kirk, or Gov. Kim Reynolds, or Sen. Chuck Grassley or Sen. Joni Ernst, to sharply reject the animating premise in so many of these incidents: the idea that Democrats have stolen and will steal election victories from Republicans. It is inarguably divorced from reason. No credible arbiter has found any credence to 2020 conspiracy theories about the outcome of the presidential election. To their discredit, many Republicans have indicated no appetite for unequivocal rebukes, preferring instead cynical indulgence, delivered with generalities about making sure that people have faith in elections.
2. Investigate the threats
More promising is for prosecutors and law enforcement, from the FBI and attorney general down to local jurisdictions, to commit to investigate reports of threats promptly and thoroughly. Although it’s more than fair to question whether aggressive investigation and prosecution would run counter to the spirit of the First Amendment and chill vital political speech, few of the vicious threats public workers have endured on their own over the past year seem like close calls.
3. Look in the mirror
Finally, all of us could take a little more responsibility for conducting ourselves civilly, and for calmly resisting outrageous conduct when we see it. Maybe you would never leave a vulgar phone message for an election worker or tell a lawmaker that you have firearms and his address. But would you blithely label a politician’s action “treasonous” in a Facebook comment and wonder about executing her? No? Would you click “like” on a meme suggesting the same thing? Or ignore it and hope somebody else calls out the misinformation and authoritarianism?
A large part of the blame for these circumstances belongs to Trump and his “stolen election” lies and to Republican leaders too cowardly to stand up to him. But we all can insist law enforcement investigate genuine threats and individually do our part to rein in the incivility that infects our political interactions. When dehumanizing barking becomes normal, the road to potential violence gets that much shorter.
The Orange County Register on Vice President Kamala Harris’ low approval ratings:
Vice President Kamala Harris’ approval rating has plummeted to 28%, according to a new Suffolk University/USA Today poll.
That is lower than her four predecessors in their first years. It’s also lower than the approval rating for President Joe Biden, who sits at 38%, and former President Donald Trump as he was leaving office in January, when he was polling around 41%.
Despite the best efforts of the Democratic political machine calling attention as much as possible to the demographically historic nature of her vice presidency, her year as Veep has been nothing short of a dud.
After being tasked with leading the administration’s efforts to address the migration crisis at the country’s southern border, Harris was criticized for not actually visiting the border. When asked about that, Harris gave a less than inspiring answer, saying, “And I haven’t been to Europe. I mean, I don’t understand the point you are making.”
Harris tried taking credit for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, noting that she was “last person in the room” with Biden while he was making the decision. And then as Americans were stranded in Afghanistan, she was back in California campaigning for Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Just how bad Harris is doing should be a surprise to no one familiar with her career in California.
The former California attorney general and United States senator has found it difficult to navigate not only her past as a tough-on-crime prosecutor in a party that’s embraced criminal justice reform, but her persistent gaffes and stories about dysfunction in her inner circle as well.
As San Francisco district attorney, her office was condemned by a Superior Court judge for “(violating) defendants’ rights by hiding damaging information about a police drug lab technician” who admitted tainting evidence, “and was indifferent to demands that it account for its failings,” as the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2010.
Among other failures as California attorney general, Harris fought the release of Daniel Larsen, who was wrongly incarcerated for over a decade, even after he was exonerated, on the grounds that Larsen hadn’t proved his innocence fast enough.
With a record like that, it was unsurprising that Harris never really caught on as a presidential candidate.
Harris’ run for president peaked on the day she announced her candidacy, and after grabbing headlines for slamming Biden in a debate as someone cozying up to racists, she quickly fizzled out. By the time Harris withdrew from the race, support for her presidential campaign among Californians was down in the single digits.
But she was politically rescued by Biden, who inexplicably chose her as his running mate.
Now, as vice president, Harris has managed to achieve a lower approval rating than former President Donald Trump achieved in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, when a Quinnipiac University poll put his approval at 33%.
It’s hard to imagine things getting much worse for her, but Harris’ unyielding ambition and penchant for cringeworthy moments means she always finds a way. The vice presidency has few responsibilities, but Harris would do well to take those seriously by focusing on competency instead of her sure-to-be disastrous next run for president.
The Toronto Star on what to make of the Glasgow climate summit:
It takes a lot of chutzpah to claim success for a climate conference whose own president had to fight back tears as he confessed he was “deeply sorry” for the way it turned out.
Yet in the wake of the much-ballyhooed COP26 summit, the world’s climate-crats are fanning out across the globe, urging us all to see the glass they poured in Glasgow as at the very least half-full.
We understand the temptation to look for the silver lining in the cloud that is COP26. After all, it’s the way the world’s governments have agreed on to try and find a way to keep the planet from reaching catastrophic levels of heating. If that process collapses, what’s left?
So the primary victory claimed for the Glasgow conference is that it avoided that result. The worst outcome would have been no agreement at all, so the very fact that the 197 nations managed to sign on to something called the “Glasgow Climate Pact” must be regarded as success.
But if that’s success, then God help us. Before COP26 opened on Oct. 31, senior figures like the U.S. climate envoy, John Kerry, were talking it up as the “last, best hope for the world to get its act together” and head off global warming above 1.5 C by the end of the century. Now that the meeting is over, the best they can claim is that it didn’t actually fall apart.
Others with less invested in the COP process can see the truth more clearly, or at least are in a position to say it out loud.
Take, for example, Mary Robinson, a former UN commissioner for human rights and chair of The Elders group of former leaders, who says: “COP26 has made some progress, but nowhere near enough to avoid climate disaster … Not enough leaders came to Glasgow with a crisis mindset. People will see this as a historically shameful dereliction of duty.”
The most striking failure came at the very end of the conference. India suddenly insisted that a pledge in the conference’s final agreement about “phasing out” coal be softened to “phasing down.” Burning coal is the single greatest contributor to the greenhouse gases that result in global warming, and the pressure from India (backed by China) to render the pledge essentially toothless was indicative of the lack of resolution shown by some key countries.
The conference also fell short of meeting a longtime demand from the most vulnerable countries for $100 billion a year in financing for “loss and damage” caused by global warming.
Of course, there were successes, eagerly grasped by “glass-half-full” proponents. There was progress on finance for climate adaptation. The timetable for countries to produce more ambitious plans to reach net-zero emissions was advanced. And there were a series of agreements among some countries on such issues as ending deforestation and stemming methane emissions.
Those could have real, positive effects. And it’s true the COP process overall is making measurable progress.
Before the landmark Paris accords in 2015, the organization Climate Action Tracker estimated the world was on course to a disastrous 4 C rise in average temperature. Actions to limit greenhouse gases have already reduced that to 3 C, and a new report says that would be cut further to between 2 and 2.4 C if governments actually carry through with commitments they have made.
That’s far above the global goal of 1.5 C; it would be, in other words, only highly damaging rather than catastrophic. And it shows it is possible to make a difference if governments take strong, effective action.
The Glasgow conference, then, was a missed opportunity, but it’s just one chapter of a very long story. Its shortcomings should encourage Canada and other countries to redouble their efforts both at home and internationally. And resolve that the next climate summit not end in similar frustration.
The Seattle Times on slow federal responses to murdered and missing Indigenous women:
Despite a groundswell of awareness of the alarming epidemic of violence against Native American women, federal law enforcement has been slow to step up to the crisis.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell this week called on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to get moving on implementing changes designed to help federal, tribal and local law enforcement agencies better respond to reports of missing or murdered Indigenous women. They should hasten to do so.
In October 2020, federal lawmakers passed the Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act, named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old pregnant member of the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota who was kidnapped and brutally murdered in 2017.
But officials at the federal departments of Justice and Interior have failed to carry out many of the provisions of those laws, according to the U.S. Government of Accountability Office. That includes appointing a Joint Commission on Reducing Violence Against Indians to identify best practices for combating the murder, trafficking, disappearance and other violent crimes against Native Americans and Alaska Natives. It also means increasing cross-jurisdictional cooperation in cases of missing or murdered Indian people and violent crime on Indian lands.
Both laws were enacted in October 2020 after years of advocacy by Indigenous women, tribes and organizations. Further delay is unacceptable. American Indian and Alaska Native women experience higher rates of violence than most other women in the U.S., the GAO reports. The true magnitude of the problem is unknown, thanks to jurisdictional challenges and lack of comprehensive data.
Journalists, community groups and advocates like Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Washington have attempted to fill in the gaps. The Vanished, a partnership between the Yakima Herald-Republic, El Sol de Yakima and Radio KDNA with support from the Yakima Valley Community Foundation and Microsoft, has documented dozens of cases — most unsolved — of missing and murdered Indigenous women in and near the Yakama reservation. The list still is growing.
But as important as these efforts have been to raise awareness, it will take robust and coordinated law enforcement response to solve the crimes, bring victims justice and end this scourge.
The Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald on tone-deafness and ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’:
“Shadowed beneath Thy hand / May we forever stand
“True to our God / True to our native land / Our native land.”
Gov. Pete Ricketts finds this divisive.
We disagree and, while we understand his political motive all too well, are saddened that the governor has taken to weighing in on every single cultural issue.
Even a song.
Even a song rooted in the American story that celebrates freedom.
Even a hymn of reverence and gratitude to the same God the governor worships.
Even a song deeply meaningful to Black Americans as a recognition of their arduous journey from slavery toward American liberty.
For those not familiar with this dust-up, Ricketts on Nov. 5 issued an official statement complaining that “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which the NAACP in 1919 declared to be the “Negro national anthem,” was being played alongside “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Husker basketball games.
Ricketts’ statement said, “There is only one national anthem for the United States: It’s the Star-Spangled Banner. It’s a symbol of our national unity and it’s the only anthem for America that should be played before Husker games. If athletic programs are going to play other ‘anthems’ before games, what has historically been a moment of patriotic pride will become nothing more than a series of political gestures that will divide Nebraskans based on their identity rather than bringing us together.”
In fact, it is Ricketts’ comments that were as divisive as they were needless. Were he seeking a solution, rather than scoring cheap political points, he could have reached out to the athletic department behind the scenes. But solution and sensitivity clearly were not his goals.
Let’s rewind to the awful summer of 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the protests it launched nationwide. Confronted once again with our country’s struggles with race relations and equity, business and political leaders promised positive change — as they have so often before.
Ricketts was among them. After a kerfuffle over his referring to Nebraska Black leaders as “you guys,” which was misheard or misstated as his saying “you people,” Ricketts told Black radio personality William King he was “learning the culture” of the African American community.
At a separate news conference, he said issues for communities of color and access to equal justice “are real and important.”
Among the institutional responses to events that summer was a decision by many sports institutions to begin playing “Lift Every Voice” along with “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games. The NFL did it. The NBA did it. The National Association of Basketball Coaches suggested it for college games, and all Big Ten teams that stay on the floor for the playing of the national anthem now also play “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
These sports are dominated by Black players, and including the song is a show of respect. These great athletes are not stage performers for White fans who get to set the rules. They are stakeholders, and it is only proper to include their views in shaping their competitive and work environments.
The Nebraska athletic department’s response to Ricketts was both perfect and mature. It is changing the order in which the songs are played, with the national anthem first, men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg said. Next, “We will clear the flag and then to promote unity and inclusion, we will play ‘Lift Every Voice’ after that.”
We don’t think anyone was confused about which song was the U.S. national anthem, as Ricketts seemed to suggest, but the change is a reasonable compromise.
Besides being the right thing to do, playing “Lift Every Voice” is helpful in showing recruits that Nebraska is a welcoming place.
That’s true not just for athletes. It is absolutely essential for our future economic health. Business leaders across the state have long recognized that Nebraska must promote and live out diversity and inclusion if it is to attract and retain millennial and younger workers needed to address our acute labor shortage.
The Ricketts administration drew praise on these pages for adding $10 million to its campaign called “The Good Life is Calling” to attract these workers — but the governor routinely undercuts the needed messaging.
Back in June 2020, Ricketts asked King to judge his heart, and apologized for using “trigger words.”
Has his heart changed? Or, perhaps, the potential for GOP political gain from hooey such as overhyping critical race theory and criticizing hymns is just a lot more important to him.
Playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before basketball games is not divisive. It is respectful and extends a musical hand for us all to grasp in unity.
Ricketts’ regrettable choice to put politics before equality and inclusion deepens the division that is tearing at our national fabric. We would be better served if our leaders instead chose to promote healing.
The Houston Chronicle on U.S. settling with migrants on child-separation:
How much does the United States owe to immigrant families whose children were separated from them as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” approach to border crossings that began in May 2018? Is it $450,000 per person affected by the callous policy, a figure recently reported by the Wall Street Journal? More? Less?
President Biden says he doesn’t know how much these children and their parents are owed, but he absolutely believes they are owed something. “If in fact, because of the outrageous behavior of the last administration,” he said Nov. 6, “you coming across the border, whether it was legal or illegal, and you lost your child, you lost your child! … you deserve some kind of compensation no matter what the circumstance.”
Many on the right have challenged that reasoning. After all, they argue, the parents broke the law to cross the border, and should have known they were risking arrest and family separation.
But in dismissing outright the payouts — and for the record, the White House says the sums will be smaller than those reported — critics overlook scores of lawsuits already filed, and nearly 1,000 claims made, alleging lasting psychological harm. How responsible would it be to refuse to settle, and instead shoulder the high cost of litigation coupled with the risk of losing? If they do get to court, juries are likely to be as outraged as we were by the extraordinarily cruel and haphazard way the administration prosecuted the zero-policy approach.
Inevitably, that policy meant ripping children, including those too young to walk or talk, away from their parents. Scholars critical of the policy have argued that it opened the United States to liability for tort suits just like the ones that have been filed, and that it violated constitutional rights of the children affected. Many who were arrested had intended only to present claims of asylum, something Trump’s policies had made all but impossible to do at the border checkpoints where such claims are usually made. Republicans and Democrats alike balked at images of heartbreak at the border and within two months Trump issued an executive order ordering that families seeking asylum be kept together.
Trials that relived all of that trauma for jurors could result in far higher damages than any of the numbers now being discussed as settlement payments.
It’s an example of how America will be paying one way or another for the colossal mistakes of the Trump administration, especially when it comes to immigration.
How America came to be facing this particular dilemma is the result of dual policy disasters.
First, the child separation crisis arose out of a policy change announced May 7, 2018, by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that had its origins in the anti-immigrant fervor maintained by White House adviser Stephen Miller. It had been tested in Texas the year before, and Sessions made it nationwide policy as part of Trump’s demand that he get tougher on people crossing the border illegally, even if they were seeking asylum, a right guaranteed under both domestic and international law. Henceforth, every adult caught would be prosecuted, even if that meant taking away children too young to walk or talk.
Not only did Sessions and the upper ranks of the DOJ foresee the child separations that followed, according to the DOJ inspector general’s report from January, they welcomed them in the hope that they’d deter future immigrants from braving the border.
Arguably far worse was that nobody kept records of which child belonged to which parent, nor did they prepare a system for reuniting the families once the misdemeanor charges were resolved and the parents released or scheduled for deportation.
The policy broke apart more than 4,000 immigrant families, many of them fleeing danger in their home countries and pursuing asylum claims in the United States. Recent reports indicate that most of the children ripped from their parents’ custody were under 12; more than 200 were younger than 5.
Some are still separated, though Biden has made it a priority to reunite the families. And while Trump and his glowering, young xenophobe adviser Miller are gone, unpaid bills remain. The American people still owe both a moral debt and a monetary one.
The second policy disaster predated the Trump administration. This nation’s immigration policy has been an unholy mess for years. Trump’s contribution to a broken system was policy chaos and indifference to human suffering.
It’s hard to believe now, but just eight years ago, the Senate passed legislation touted as “comprehensive immigration reform” by a lopsided vote of 68-32. As immigration scholar Edward Alden recalls, writing in the current issue of Foreign Policy, the legislation would have made it easier for talented immigrants to live, work and study in this country; provided more money and resources for border security; and offered a pathway to citizenship to undocumented immigrants already living and working in the U.S.
The House, under the increasing sway of the Tea Party, killed the bill.
For now, smaller reforms are our best hope. Some of them included in Biden’s Build Back Better package are excellent ideas, from raising the number of green cards available, to reflect unused slots in recent years, to offering undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before 2011 so-called immigration parole, which would allow them to seek renewable, five-year work permits.
These ideas deserve bipartisan support.
That’s something we suspect will be missing when it comes to payments to families whose children tumbled into Miller’s ill-conceived immigration maw. U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas signed a letter to Biden Nov. 1 accusing the administration of “seeking to financially reward aliens who broke our laws.” If they were honest about it, the senators would blame Miller and his boss for the tab.
Settlements are the most prudent step. As we reach for our checkbook, we’re reminded yet again that Donald Trump invariably leaves debt in his wake. We’ll be paying those debts, monetary and otherwise, for years to come.
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