Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Los Angles Times on the wildfires in California, climate change and human error:
After an extended weekend of wildfires, part of an early fire season that has already seen a record 2 million acres burned and Death Valley-like temperatures smothering the San Fernando Valley, Californians would be right to wonder whether we are living in a hellscape. We are not, it’s safe to say. But we are living in the future that climate scientists have been trying to warn us about for years now.
No, climate change did not start the El Dorado fire Saturday near Yucaipa. That, authorities report, was caused by celebrants setting off some pyrotechnics during a gender-reveal party. (What the hell were they thinking?) And climate change did not spark the Bobcat fire the next day in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Monrovia. But climate change has played a role in the conditions - in particular, the drier, hotter air and deeper droughts creating more flammable ecosystems - that are making these fires bigger and more dangerous.
The fires here are part of a broad burning of wildlands in the West, which occurred naturally before densifying human settlements and the non-native plants they introduced began changing the balance of nature. The Insurance Information Institute counted almost 40,000 wildfires in the country this year through Aug. 31, compared with fewer than 33,600 for the same time frame in 2019.
That uptick in the number of fires may be a blip, or it may be a sign of a worrisome new trend. The Congressional Research Service reported last year that an average of 6.9 million acres have burned each year since 2000, with an annual average of 71,300 wildfires. That’s more than double average annual acreage that went up in flames in the 1990s, even though in that decade there were more fires each year. In other words, over the last three decades the West has trended toward fewer fires, but the ones that have erupted have caused more damage.
This is the kind of change that climate experts told us to expect. But there is more going on than the smoke in our skies.
The population of Louisiana’s bayou region has shifted inland after levees and other flood-protection projects disrupted the Mississippi River’s ability to replenish land that’s slowly (and naturally) sinking, paradoxically leaving it more vulnerable to flooding from stronger and more frequent hurricanes. A state report last year estimated that “1,900 square miles have been lost in Louisiana since the 1930s, and an additional 4,120 square miles could be lost over the next 50 years…. Louisiana is in the midst of an existential crisis.”
In fact, all of the world’s low-lying coastal regions face existential danger from rising seas, imperiling the homes of more than 300 million people. By one estimate, 40% of the U.S. population lives in places susceptible to a sea level rise of just three feet, predicted in some models by the end of the century.
In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, and against the deafening noise of the presidential election, few people may have noticed a study released last month reporting that the ice sheet covering Greenland is disappearing faster than had been predicted, and that it may have already passed a tipping point. In June, a Siberian town recorded the highest-ever temperature in the Arctic: 100.4 degrees. In Alaska, melting permafrost and decreased coastal ice have led to significant erosion, forcing two settlements to pack up and move farther inland.
So we haven’t, as a species, sufficiently heeded the warnings of our scientists, and now we are seeing the costs of that intransigence. There is no longer - if there ever really was - any plausible deniability that the burning of fossil fuels for energy heats up the oceans and the atmosphere, creating a cycle of interactions that compound the problem.
We need to end this reliance on fossil fuels if we’re going to have any hope of mitigating the damage we have already done to the global environment, and to ourselves. We need to stop building communities in places that we know will burn. We need to stop doing stupid things like lighting off fireworks in wildland areas. We need to plan for how rising seas will affect not only seaside settlements, but coastal aquifers subject to the intrusion of salty ocean water. We need to better and more forthrightly take on the responsibility to fix what we have broken. We need to do so much that it can be overwhelming, and dispiriting. But we dare not succumb to it. Wildfires don’t care.
The Sun Sentinel on President Donald Trump’s alleged comments calling armed services members “suckers” and “losers:”
America’s armed forces impress certain core values upon their recruits. The Army’s, for example, are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.
“In serving your country,” the Army explains, “you are doing your duty loyally without thought of recognition or gain.”
How can anyone not get that?
But there’s someone who doesn’t. It’s their commander in chief, President Donald Trump.
As reported by Atlantic magazine editor Jeffrey Goldberg last week and confirmed by other media, Trump has said that American men and women in uniform are “suckers” for serving in the military and that they are “losers” if they are killed or captured.
His inability to comprehend patriotic service was on display long before a 2017 visit to Arlington National Cemetery, as recounted in the Atlantic, where the president stood among heroes of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and remarked “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”
As far back as 1999, according to the Washington Post, Trump was questioning the heroism of John McCain, a potential future rival for the presidency, because he had been captured in Vietnam. Even earlier, in television and radio interviews, he compared combat in Vietnam to the hazards of sexually transmitted diseases. Trump got a draft deferment with a diagnosis of bone spurs.
“If you’re young, and in this era, and if you have any guilt about not having gone to Vietnam, we have our own Vietnam. It’s called the dating game,” he said on one occasion.
Many Americans may want to believe Trump’s fervent denials of what the Atlantic disclosed, but the president is like the shepherd boy in Aesop’s fable who falsely cried “Wolf!” so often that the villagers did not believe him when it was true. Little of what he says can be taken as fact without independent corroboration.
Within hours, the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post and even the national security correspondent at Fox News corroborated essential elements from their own sources.
Forbes linked to a video of Trump himself, at a 2015 campaign event in Iowa, using the word “losers” in expanding on his disdain for warriors like McCain, who had been captured.
This is the gist of the new allegations.
- When Trump withdrew from a scheduled visit to a World War I cemetery near Paris in 2018, he claimed it was because his helicopter couldn’t fly in rain and the Secret Service couldn’t drive him safely. In private, he said it was because he feared his hair would be disheveled in the rain and remarked, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” Separately, the Atlantic said, he referred to the 1,800 U.S. Marines buried there, from the pivotal 1918 battle of Belleau Wood, as “suckers” for having been killed. He asked aloud, “Who were the good guys in this war?” and said he didn’t understand why the U.S. had intervened.
- Trump used the same term, “loser,” on at least two occasions to describe former President George H.W. Bush, a Navy pilot in World War II who had been shot down by Japanese forces and rescued by a U.S. submarine. The Bush family has conspicuously refused to support Trump.
- On Memorial Day 2017, it was at the grave of Robert Kelly, a Marine lieutenant who had died in Afghanistan, where Trump asked his father, retired Gen. John Kelly, “What was in it for them?” General Kelly, his head of homeland security at the time, would become his chief of staff.
- At a White House meeting in 2018 to plan for a military parade, Atlantic reported, Trump “asked his staff not to include wounded veterans, on grounds that spectators would feel uncomfortable in the presence of amputees. ‘Nobody wants to see that,’ he said.”
The sources cited by the Atlantic and the other news media remain anonymous, as is true of nearly all White House reportage during the reign of this particularly vengeful president.
But in this instance, silence speaks loudly.
Kelly, James Mattis and other generals who served Trump and would have knowledge of what the Atlantic reported have refused the media’s requests to either confirm or deny the allegations.
To anyone familiar with the military’s concepts of duty and honor, their silence is profoundly significant. It is unthinkable that anyone who held four-star rank, as they did, would decline to defend the commander in chief unless the charges were true.
Trump himself underscored the import of Kelly’s silence by attacking him the day after the story broke. He said he fired Kelly after 17 months because he was “exhausted,” was “unable to handle the pressure,” and “didn’t do a good job.”
“And now he goes out and bad-mouths,” Trump said.
In its own reporting last week, the New York Times said that “people familiar with Mr. Trump’s private conversations say he has long scorned those who served in Vietnam as being too dumb to have gotten out of it, as he did.”
And according to his outspoken niece Mary Trump, the president’s brother Robert, who died recently, told her that Donald Trump had threatened to disown his eldest son when he talked of volunteering for the military.
If the Atlantic’s allegations are true, Trump is unfit to be the person ultimately responsible for the lives of the 2.4 million American volunteers who serve on active duty and in the reserves.
The values of our military - duty and honor above all - are not his values.
The Washington Post on Daniel T. Prude, a New York man who died of asphyxiation while in police custody:
Was it malice, indifference or incompetence? That is the question that must be asked about how police in Rochester, N.Y., treated a 41-year-old Black man who was experiencing a psychotic episode. Daniel T. Prude died of asphyxiation after officers restrained him by pulling a hood over his head and forcing his face to the ground. Watch the excruciating video of Mr. Prude - naked, in obvious distress, sprawled on the ground and struggling for air while officers can be heard chuckling in the background - and it is clear that the answer is a combination of all three. It’s also clear that if Mr. Prude had been White he likely would have been treated with more humanity.
Mr. Prude’s deadly encounter with police occurred on March 23 - two months before George Floyd, also a Black man, died gasping for breath under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer in a case that galvanized the country to the problem of police brutality and racial injustice. But the Prude case came to light only on Wednesday, when attorneys for his family released graphic video footage of his arrest obtained through a public-records request. The video sparked protests in Rochester and prompted Mayor Lovely A. Warren (D) to order the suspension of the seven officers involved in the incident and apologize to the Prude family.
Ms. Warren claimed the police chief had misled her about the circumstances of the death. But the fact that she didn’t act sooner after seeing the disturbing video, and the suggestion of a possible coverup, are among the issues that need to be addressed.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office was charged by the governor with investigations into police-related killings of unarmed civilians after the death of yet another Black man, Eric Garner, undertook a criminal probe in April. That was after the county medical examiner ruled that Mr. Prude, who died March 30 after seven days on life support, was the victim of a homicide. That investigation is continuing.
What is particularly heartbreaking about this case is that it started with efforts by Mr. Prude’s brother to get him help. Mr. Prude’s erratic behavior prompted his brother to seek medical attention, but a visit to Strong Memorial Hospital resulted in a release without any treatment. When Daniel Prude bolted from his brother Joe’s house in the early hours, Joe Prude called 911. “I placed the phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched,” said Joe Prude.
Americans with mental illnesses make up nearly a quarter of those killed by police. Part of the debate about policing rightly has centered on the need to better train police in dealing with these cases or, preferably, to rethink public safety so that medical and social services professionals respond to non-criminal cases involving people in mental health or substance abuse crisis. Mr. Prude’s case clearly underscores the need for such reforms.
The State newspaper of Columbia, South Carolina, on Chadwick Boseman’s death:
The state Senate has passed a resolution honoring actor and Anderson native Chadwick Boseman, who recently died at age 43 after a four-year battle with colon cancer.
But here is what should truly strike a chord regarding the state’s commemoration of the beloved film star:
It is an honor that Boseman deserved just as much for the nobility he displayed in actual life as the brilliance he exhibited on a movie screen.
By all accounts Boseman was a private public figure; indeed what made the impact of the actor’s death so weighty for so many was that so few knew that he was even fighting a daunting battle with cancer - or that he’d been doing so for such a lengthy period.
But we can surely assume that during the four years between the day Boseman learned of his diagnosis and the day he finally succumbed to it, he experienced moments of fallen tears.
Moments of raw devastation.
And moments of deep despair.
A superhuman in a two-hour film is still a human being in 24-hour life - and isn’t immune from the vulnerabilities that come with that reality.
Yet the enduring power of Boseman’s memory should be that his final four years of life were lived with:
And, most striking of all, Boseman’s final four years of life were clearly fueled by this: a relentless hunger to keep accomplishing great things in his life - and, time after time, to keep achieving them.
Yes, we should always treasure the magnificence of Boseman’s work in movies like “42,” “Marshall,” “Da 5 Bloods” and, of course, his iconic starring role as King T’Challa in “The Black Panther.”
But what demands to be cherished even more about Boseman is that he possessed the unquenchable sense of tenacity to keep pursuing acclaimed magnificence while also confronting stark mortality.
We should always admire how convincingly Boseman played a superhero in front of the cameras.
But our greatest applause should always be reserved for the compelling courage that the actor demonstrated far from the camera - because that truly was heroic in nature.
A TRUE LEGACY
It’s a given that part of Boseman’s legacy will always be the declaration of empowerment that he utters in “The Black Panther”:
And that will always be fitting.
For generations to come it will inspire young Black children of all backgrounds - some of them facing obstacles of all kinds - to proudly wear “Black Panther” costumes to Halloween parties and countless other gatherings of kids.
Their heads will be held high.
Their bearing will be brimming with self-esteem.
Their eyes will be bright with self-confidence.
And that will forever carry a power that goes well beyond two simple words in a Marvel Studios movie.
But the lasting legacy of Chadwick Boseman should also be that of someone who chased and grasped excellence in cinematic life while bravely and directly confronting, each day, the fragility and uncertainty of genuine life.
It is a legacy worthy of resonance, and it’s why the state Senate’s recognition of Boseman is one so richly earned.
The Wall Street Journal on President Donald Trump’s comment regarding voting twice:
When President Trump objects to mass mail voting, the guardians of conventional wisdom rush to assure the public that absentee ballots are secure. Phrases like “no evidence” of “widespread fraud” are routine talking points. But then check out the panic attack this week.
Speaking in North Carolina on Wednesday, Mr. Trump told his supporters to mail an absentee ballot, by all means. But he added that they should “check their vote,” by trying to cast a ballot at the polls on Election Day, to see if they’re marked down already. “If their system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote,” he said. “If it isn’t tabulated, they’ll be able to vote.”
The press treated this as a bombshell, saying Mr. Trump had urged his fans to commit fraud by illegally voting twice. For the record, we’d discourage anyone from taking Mr. Trump’s advice. North Carolina’s Board of Elections put out a statement Thursday saying voters can find out from home whether their mail ballots have arrived. Checking at the polls “is not necessary, and it would lead to longer lines and the possibility of spreading COVID-19.”
If mail voting is as secure as everyone seems to want desperately to believe, though, isn’t Mr. Trump correct to say that two-timers would be turned away? The system should be able to handle such a test as routine. Instead the President’s suggestion was treated like an attack on democracy. “It’s like advising someone to try to rob a bank to see if the security is as good as the bank says it is,” Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simontold CNN.
But hang on: What if the U.S. Postal Service falls down on the job? This spring in Ohio, 300 ballots showed up 13 days after an election, which the USPS blamed on an “unintentional missort.” In 2016 roughly 75,000 absentee votes nationwide were rejected because they didn’t make the deadline (compared with about 160,000 disqualified for suspect or missing signatures). The USPS delivers most first-class mail in two to five days. What if a North Carolinian put a ballot into that blue collection box a week before Election Day, but the tracking system doesn’t say it arrived?
“If you mail in a ballot a week before the election and it’s not showing up, or you’re not able to determine whether or not it’s been accepted, you can vote in person,” Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the North Carolina Board of Elections, said on a press call Thursday. “If your ballot subsequently arrives at the county board of elections, that vote will not be counted.”
Officials discourage this, and they might investigate it, but North Carolina’s fraud statute requires bad intent. At least one state explicitly allows in-person voting to override an absentee ballot, in case a swing voter doesn’t stay swung. “The Election Law recognizes that plans change,” New York’s voting website says. “The Board of Elections is required to check the poll book before canvassing any absentee ballot.”
The responses to Attorney General Bill Barr’s remarks this week were even more obtuse. Mr. Barr said that mass mail voting is “playing with fire,” suggesting that a foreign adversary could counterfeit and submit fake ballots. One media fact-checker said there was no way that a hostile power could pull this off without detection, as if the sudden appearance of thousands of tainted ballots would, in itself, be no big deal.
Another fact-checker used the tried-and-true line: There’s no proof that a foreign adversary is trying to counterfeit ballots. But wait, these folks also claim Mr. Trump isn’t taking Russian election interference seriously.
The overreaction to Mr. Trump’s voting remarks betrays that there really could be an issue with ballot integrity this fall. Yet the media-Democratic chorus only gets alarmed at the prospect that Mr. Trump might exploit it. The reality is that both parties are gearing up to challenge mail-in voting with lawsuits that could tie up the result of a close election for weeks. They’d do better by the country if they paid more attention to the risks and reduced them.
The Toronto Star on catchphrases used by politicians and how they may incite fear:
The past is warm and comforting, the future unsettling and unclear.
Is it any wonder, then, that aspiring political leaders campaign on evocative promises to turn back history, stop the world from spinning, return us for good and always to some imaginary time when all was right and just, when the worthy were rewarded, the transgressive sternly dealt with.
Donald Trump: “Make America Great Again.”
Brexiteers: “Let’s take back control.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole: “Let’s take back Canada.”
Citizens deserve better. They owe themselves and their community greater critical thinking.
They cannot at one and the same time complain that politicians are shameless mountebanks while eagerly purchasing every jar of snake oil on offer.
At minimum, they should be aware of what politicians are doing and exploiting.
Consider the use of language. Such slogans invariably make use of the power of hard consonants - the k, t, b and hard c. They are sounds that pop off the palate and grab our attention.
It is the difference between saying, “hush” or “shut up!” The meaning is similar. Lower the volume. But the one soothes, the other is spat out as a verbal slap across the face.
Advertisers and political manipulators know that the sound of words can matter as much as the meaning. It is not for nothing, after all, that most profanity in the English language is full of such sounds. It is language meant to grab attention.
But far more dangerous is what such slogans do, how they exploit our susceptibility to nostalgia, our penchant for editing and burnishing the past into something far simpler, fairer and greater than it was.
They hint at some better tomorrow that will be summoned by going backward, though seldom explain how it will be achieved.
Rather, they fuel dissatisfaction with the present and suggest - if not overtly naming - some scapegoat responsible for ruining things, whomever it was that things need to be taken “back” from.
The clarion call to which we are all so neurologically susceptible is an appeal to emotion, not reason.
And make no mistake. Such slogans work.
They turn us into a nation of oldsters in rocking chairs, insisting hockey was better when we were young, children better behaved, families never dysfunctional, an honest day’s work was done for a day’s pay, and handshakes were better than contracts.
This, of course, is delusional codswallop - the echo of our biblical fall from some idyllic garden, owing to deceit, treachery and gullibility.
Research in Europe suggests the majority of those over 35 think the world used to be a better place. Further, men, the unemployed and economically anxious are most prone to such feelings of nostalgia. And such feelings are often triggered by negative moods, anxiety and insecurity.
Yearning for retreat to a time of order and predictability serves as our internal stabilizing mechanism.
In Erin O’Toole’s rendering, those on whose behalf he is proposing to take Canada back are the uber-virtuous, “all of the hard-working Canadians who built this great country,” and the farmers - salt of the earth, doubtless - “who get up early every day and risk it all to provide for us.”
The untitled nobility of humanity, he suggests, who are all “being taken for granted.”
This is not a plan. It is a fable about some imagined past paradise, a calculated nurturing of grievance about its loss.
Yet, if there’s a recurring lesson for humanity, it is that time runs in one direction.
Flux prevails, change is constant, adaptability is key. No one gets to freeze history and evolution at a time most favourable to themselves.
Dinosaurs vanish. Empires rise and fall. Borders change. Corporations dominate then disappear.
From Yeats’s declaration that “time’s levelling winds” erase even the monuments of the mighty, to Joni Mitchell’s lament that “we can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came,” the truth abides.
We can’t go backwards.
And we should recognize that those promising otherwise are not calling to the best in us.
They are exploiting our weaknesses and fears.
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