Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Buffalo News on climate change, Earth Day and President Joe Biden’s environmental plan:
The realities of climate change present Buffalo Niagara with some good news and bad news. We’ll give you both together: Global warming may turn Buffalo into a climate refuge.
Our region’s location near two Great Lakes gives us access to abundant freshwater. Torrid conditions that drive people away from other states and countries can work to our advantage. Buffalo’s snowstorms will no longer be fodder for late-night TV comics, but will be a source of cooling relief.
Being a climate refuge presents opportunities for which our region should prepare. But it’s also a consolation prize. The bad news is that rising temperatures and sea levels in this century will send millions away from their homes looking for habitable conditions.
We should prepare to attract and welcome climate refugees here, but in the meantime we must support efforts to slow the heating of our planet.
Thursday is Earth Day, which President Biden will observe by kicking off a two-day virtual climate summit with 40 world leaders. The president is looking to demonstrate to the rest of the world that the United States is committed to leading in the fight against climate change, a contrast to the “America first” isolationism of the country under former President Donald Trump.
It is expected that Biden will pledge that the nation reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. That’s an aggressive goal that will require substantial increases in renewable energy and sharp cuts in the use of fossil fuels.
The president’s commitment to mitigating climate change, including $174 billion in spending to boost the electric vehicle market as part of his massive infrastructure package, is gaining traction and causing the mostly Republican opposition to dig in its heels.
We saw an example earlier this month in Niagara County, where two Republican state lawmakers, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt and Assemblyman Michael J. Norris, held a news conference to denounce a new provision in state law that affects how large-scale renewable energy projects will be taxed.
The law provides a standardized method for how large wind or solar projects are assessed. The “discounted cash flow” model does not mean that municipalities will get less tax revenue. The process, used often in evaluating commercial real estate investments, means estimating the current value of a property based on how much money it will generate in the future. The estimated income for a series of future years is brought back, or discounted, to the current year. And municipalities may still negotiate payment-in-lieu-of-taxes arrangements with energy developers.
Those who line up against renewable energy projects ignore the fact that the costs of slowing climate change will only increase the longer we wait to start paying them.
If our nation clings to shortsighted environmental policies, the whirlwind we reap will ultimately devastate everyone in its path.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune on the verdict in George Floyd’s killing:
Now a nation that was holding its breath for justice can exhale.
In one of the most significant racial justice cases in U.S. history, a white Minneapolis police officer has been convicted of murdering an unarmed, handcuffed Black man.
A diverse 12-member jury of Minnesotans found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on Tuesday. And the image of Chauvin driving his knee into the neck of George Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds is forever seared into the American and global psyche.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presided over a well-run trial, fairly allowing both the defense and prosecution to mount vigorous cases - all livestreamed for a global audience. In this milestone, racially charged case, justice was truly served.
Floyd’s death had significance far beyond the outcome of his killer’s trial. It was senseless and criminal, but it was not in vain. The May 2020 murder on a Minneapolis street sparked multiracial protests in Minnesota and around the world, focusing new attention on decades of unfair treatment of Blacks and other people of color.
Perhaps combined with the yearlong COVID pandemic and its disproportionate toll on Americans of color, Floyd’s death opened millions of eyes, hearts and minds to what decades of racism have wrought. Veteran activists and new allies have come together in the name of racial justice and Black Lives Matter.
The ongoing reckoning has focused not only on policing but also on racial inequality in housing, education, business, sports and the arts. More than ever, Americans are stepping up to view work, service and other aspects of their daily lives through the popularly dubbed “equity lens” and challenging our systems to be more inclusive and more just.
Reliving what happened last May through Chauvin’s trial helped humanize Floyd and, by extension, others who have made mistakes in their lives, including those struggling with drug addiction and chemical dependency. Americans with drug problems or previous run-ins with the law too often receive unequal treatment in our courts. That needs to change.
The trial also brought home the emotional impact of police deadly force deaths on individuals and communities. The pain resonated in the heart-wrenching testimony of Darnella Frazier, who was just 17 the day she and her 9-year-old cousin watched Floyd die.
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black,” said Frazier, who recorded the cellphone video of Floyd’s death and posted it on Facebook so that it could not be ignored.
Even so, she wonders if that was enough. “It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life.”
The world could see and hear Frazier’s testimony because Chauvin’s trial was the first in Minnesota history to be captured live on camera. It should not be the last.
The gavel-to-gavel coverage brought a deeper understanding of what happened in the courtroom, allowing viewers to see the evidence and hear testimony of witnesses and experts. The transparency was welcome - and necessary.
Few who watched Darnella Frazier’s video will ever forget the horrendously cruel way Floyd died - pinned beneath a cop’s knee while begging for his mother, his breath and his life. Yet even before Chauvin’s trial concluded, Daunte Wright’s killing at the hands of a Brooklyn Center police officer added another video to America’s infamous collection.
It’s imperative that America take action now - not just with reforms in policing but also by creating a more just and inclusive society. We have a verdict in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial and justice for George Floyd. Now we need lasting change and justice for all.
The Washington Post on gun laws and the mass shooting in Indianapolis:
At 19, he already had a gun taken from him by police after his mother told them he might try to commit suicide-by-cop - to induce a police officer to shoot him. He had been committed briefly to a hospital for mental evaluation. He was questioned by the FBI. Yet this clearly unstable young man had no problem legally purchasing two assault-style rifles - weapons he used to slaughter eight people and kill himself at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis.
Brandon Hole’s ability to acquire guns so easily after he had been deemed by police too dangerous to possess a weapon speaks to many levels of failure. Law enforcement failed to take steps under Indiana’s red-flag law to prevent him from purchasing new weapons after they had confiscated one gun. The law itself is too limited in who can petition the court for suspension of someone’s right to own a gun. And lawmakers, primarily Republican members of Congress, refuse to recognize that no one, least of all a troubled 19-year-old, should have access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that are designed to kill quickly, brutally and in large numbers.
As investigation into last week’s mass shooting continues, details of how the state’s red-flag law might have been used to prevent the rampage have only added to the grief of a community mourning the senseless loss of lives. In 2005, Indiana became one of the first states to enact legislation that allows authorities to temporarily take guns away from people found by a judge to pose a danger to themselves or others. In principle, it should have stopped Mr. Hole.
In March 2020, when he was 18, his mother reported his suicidal tendencies to police, and they confiscated a brand new shotgun. The law requires that once police take a weapon, prosecutors have 14 days to justify the seizure to a judge. A person deemed unstable by the court would be barred from possessing any guns for at least six months. But prosecutors didn’t pursue the matter, and months later, Mr. Hole bought the two assault weapons. Prosecutors have since said that because Mr. Hole surrendered the gun and committed no violent act, they had no reason to pursue the matter. They also complained that the law’s two-week turnaround is too short to conduct an investigation and that they are handicapped by their inability to get an individual’s medical records.
Critics of gun control laws predictably tried to use the case to buttress the argument that such laws are futile. But the law has proved effective in reducing suicides; a University of Indianapolis study showed a 7.5 percent decrease in gun-related suicides in the decade after its passage. The lesson of this tragedy is not to abandon the law but to strengthen it, including by allowing relatives to petition the court, and better enforce it.
No, red-flag laws alone would not prevent all firearm-related deaths, but they would help. So would universal and more rigorous background checks. So would a ban on the assault-style weapons that enabled Mr. Hole - and the countless mass murderers who preceded him - to kill with speed and efficiency.
The Chicago Tribune on video of the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by police:
Chicago is a city in mourning. A city fractured. And yet body camera footage from the March 29 shooting death of Adam Toledo binds us in a most tragic way. We knew the videos from the police oversight agency were coming. But witnessing, absorbing, what actually happened has been shattering.
This is only the beginning of a long and painful journey about that night; about Chicago police training, tactics and interactions with minority communities; and about the thousands of kids who get lost in the system. We will continue to question what prompted an officer to pull his trigger in a split second as Toledo appeared to raise his hands, unarmed. And we’ll continue to examine the chain of events that landed a 13-year-old in an alley in the middle of the night, running from police.
Perhaps one chilling, contributing factor can be found on a separate video, also released last Thursday. It’s not the clip shown around the world, the final moments of Toledo’s short life. It is police body camera footage from around the corner as other officers confronted the 21-year-old man, Ruben Roman, who was with Toledo that night and allegedly fired shots at a passing car. That’s what drew police to the scene, prompting both of them to run.
Within minutes, Toledo was shot by an officer. And as he lay dying, the video shows Roman repeatedly telling police that he is an innocent bystander who doesn’t know anything.
“ … I was just passing by. I was just on my way home,” he says.
No mention of what police later alleged, that he was seen on surveillance videos shooting at a car - with a kid at his side. This is the person 13-year-old Toledo trusted enough to be out at 2:30 a.m. on a Monday.
One of Toledo’s former teachers said Toledo didn’t fully understand how dangerous his environment was. He lacked the socialization norms at school that give kids a center, a grounding. He started “hanging out with people that he thought cared about him.”
If true, how heartbreaking, how evil, to see someone he might have considered a friend - Roman - pretending not to know him, to repeatedly lie to police - allegedly - in order to save himself. In that separate video of March 29, Roman is handcuffed and held by an officer near a chain-link fence after being chased down.
Roman did not, would not, give police Toledo’s real name, police later said. And Toledo, being 13, had no driver’s license, no identification. So his body lay in the morgue unclaimed, unidentified, for two days until police pieced together his mother’s previous missing person report.
These are the “friends” impressionable, struggling 13-year-olds gravitate toward. These are the types of people who prey on the vulnerable. Maybe we can learn from that.
According to interviews, Toledo at a young age was placed in special education classes that removed him from typical classroom settings. He liked to draw, a teacher recalled. Had the school offered an art class, maybe he would have grown into that talent. But there were no art classes at his school. And the pandemic intensified feelings of isolation for many, many teens during the past year.
Roman faces charges of reckless discharge of a firearm, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, child endangerment and probation violations. His case, as it moves through the criminal justice system, deserves our attention and focus too. We will be watching.
Our yearlong Chicago Forward series, which focused on young adults who slip through the cracks of family, education and job opportunities - and face the temptations of the streets - includes suggestions on what we, as a city, can do to reach and safeguard that population.
The Guardian on NATO, Ukraine and Russia:
The motive for Russia’s military buildup on the border with Ukraine is unclear, but opacity is the point. Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy is meant to defy and confound international onlookers. Ordinary Russians have nothing to gain from the Kremlin’s sending tens of thousands of soldiers, plus tanks and artillery, to menace a neighbouring state, just as they saw no material benefit in the annexation of Crimea in 2014. On the contrary, they suffered from the ensuing international sanctions.
But Mr Putin’s military adventures allow him to pose as a strongman who defies the west. Seizing territory that was once in the Soviet Union was central to the campaign to restore national pride after the loss of superpower status. That agenda is vital to a president who has little else to offer his people. Endemic corruption and bullying authoritarianism have produced economic stagnation. For want of a plan to make Russia competitive in civil spheres, the Kremlin relies on military posturing, cyber-espionage and geopolitical mischief to prove that it cannot be ignored.
That dynamic poses an immediate threat to the sovereignty of Ukraine and a recurrent challenge to its allies. Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, on Wednesday met his US, French and German counterparts to discuss the escalating situation. In theory, Nato stands behind Kiev. Support is “unwavering”, according to Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary general. Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, has described Russia’s behaviour as “very provocative”.
How Mr Blinken’s boss in the White House reacts is being watched closely by the Kremlin’s provocateur-in-chief. Getting the measure of Joe Biden is not the only reason to rattle a sabre at Ukraine, but it is a significant factor. If the US flinches, it will be taken by Mr Putin as licence to extend what he sees as his “sphere of influence” in Europe – possibly by force. The Ukrainian military is better trained and equipped than it was in 2014, thanks to Nato help (and US weaponry), but that enhanced capability might not deter Russia. Fear of a domestic backlash once casualties start mounting would be a bigger constraint.
Thankfully, events have not spiralled that far, but the fact that such a turn is conceivable should be cause for the incipient crisis to command more attention in European capitals. London is hawkish in relations with Russia (especially since the Skripal poisonings), but Paris and Berlin tend to be more cautious in confronting the Kremlin. There are commercial as well as strategic issues in play - not the least of which is a pipeline project for carrying Russian gas to Germany. The European Union is not well set up for foreign policy coordination. The continent is reliant on America for its security in ways that test Washington’s patience. Donald Trump was petulant and spiteful on that point, but his frustration was not exceptional.
The wider the divisions within Nato, the more room Mr Putin sees for his trouble-making manoeuvres. And that puts Ukraine and the stability of eastern Europe in peril. There is no easy way to handle Russia when its foreign policy is conditioned by paranoid nationalism and cynical playing to a domestic audience by means of stoking international conflict. But the starting point for democracies on both sides of the Atlantic must be unequivocal solidarity with a sovereign state that has already suffered from Kremlin territorial aggression, and is threatened by it once again.
Las Vegas Review-Journal on President Joe Biden’s judicial panel:
During the presidential campaign, Joe Biden famously refused to say whether he’d be part of a court-packing scheme intended to ensure that the Supreme Court looked the other way on constitutionally dubious progressive initiatives. Eventually, Mr. Biden said that, if elected, he’d appoint a commission to study the issue.
On Friday, the president signed an executive order creating such a panel. Ironically, the move comes just days after one of the Supreme Court’s liberal members warned against expanding the number of justices to achieve policy goals.
“It is wrong to think of the court as another political institution,” Justice Stephen Breyer said last week in remarks at Harvard Law School. “And it is doubly wrong to think of its members as junior league politicians.” He added, “Structural alteration motivated by the perception of political influence can only feed that perception, further eroding that trust.”
Justice Breyer, a 27-year veteran of the court, also argued that the court is not a political body despite efforts to make it one. Differences among the justices are based on differing judicial philosophies and constitutional interpretations, he said.
It’s true that the Constitution is silent on the number of Supreme Court justices - leaving that to Congress - although the panel has been comprised of nine jurists since 1869. But the progressive push to add as many as five justices is grounded in the same short-term thinking that led Senate Democrats to eliminate the filibuster for federal judicial nominees only to deeply regret the move three years later when they lost control of the upper chamber and the White House.
For four years Democrats mewled incessantly about the danger Donald Trump posed to the nation’s political and democratic institutions. Yet now they openly talk about rewriting the First Amendment, ending minority protections in the Senate, adding states for the sole purpose of cementing Democratic majorities and packing the U.S. Supreme Court. There’s even a line of progressive thinking which argues that the “undemocratic” Senate itself should be eliminated because it gives small states equal representation with large ones.
Exactly who is the real threat to America’s political institutions? And where’s the “moderate” Joe Biden who preached unity and was supposed to put the brakes on his party’s rapid lurch to the left?
Mr. Biden’s judicial panel will have 180 days to meet and includes 36 members, most from academia and the legal field. Although there are a handful of conservative or libertarian scholars on the commission, left-leaning philosophies dominate among the members. While court-packing will be its primary focus, the board will examine other issues, such as term limits for federal and Supreme Court justices, who currently receive lifetime appointments.
Whether all this is simply show designed to quiet the vocal hard left that now dominates the Democratic Party or whether the commission will actually lay the groundwork for overhauling the nation’s judicial system remains to be seen, of course. By all means let’s have a debate on the wisdom of ramming through a radical judicial reform grounded in hyperpartisan politics that polls show a healthy majority of Americans oppose. After all, how much political risk can the Biden administration tolerate heading into 2022 with an evenly split Senate and a tiny House majority?
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