Editorial Roundup: US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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March 31

The Miami Herald on a proposed law that would ban water and food handouts near polling sites in Florida, similar to a law recently passed in Georgia:

Florida Republicans’ tactics ahead of the 2022 elections are clear and simple: Make it hard for citizens to vote by mail. When they go to the polls in the Florida heat, make standing in line more miserable by making it illegal to hand them water.

In Republicans’ fantasy world — one in which Donald Trump won “by a landslide” and we have to “fix” the system to keep Black and brown people from turning out in large numbers — giving someone a bottle of Dasani as they stand on line to vote is going to turn America into Venezuela.

But House Bill 7041 is not a fantasy. And Floridians are in danger of it becoming reality. This legislation would make anyone who dares give a bottle of water to someone standing on line to vote face a misdemeanor charge if it becomes law.

It’s not lost on us that Black voters in Florida have historically faced some of the longest voting lines, often in the hot, humid weather during Florida’s August primaries.

JUST LIKE GEORGIA

This measure is part of a sweeping elections reform bill that mirrors the controversial law Georgia just passed and that’s subject of a lawsuit. It’s cruel, racist and tries to thwart the promise of democracy that Blacks and others rightly fought to secure.

HB 7041 would expand the zone at polling sites in which voters cannot be solicited from 100 feet to 150 feet. That no-solicitation zone is meant to protect voters from coercion and prohibits things like handing out political material and leaflets. The bill would expand the meaning of “solicitation” to include “giving or attempting to give any item; and interacting or attempting to interact with any voter.” Sponsor Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, told a House committee last Monday that includes food and beverages.

The bill’s food-and-beverage provision is not even its most egregious — though it might be its most absurd. But it shows Republicans’ boldness when they control legislatures as they do in Florida and Georgia. They have stopped pretending their true intention isn’t to thwart voter participation.

The bill also would require voters to request vote-by-mail ballots every election cycle instead of every two cycles, as the law currently allows. The legislation would, however, allow ballots requested before the bill’s effective date on July 1 to be valid for next year’s gubernatorial election. The bill also would prohibit anyone other than an immediate family member from handling someone’s ballot to prevent what’s known as “ballot harvesting.”

IT GETS WORSE

The Senate version of the bill (SB 90) goes even further: It would eliminate ballot drop boxes, which are a convenient and safe way for voters to return their ballots without having to put them in the mail. (the House version would only increase security for them). It would also force voters who requested a ballot for 2020 to re-apply ahead of 2022. Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Christina White has warned that would remove more than 404,000 voters scheduled to receive mail ballots over the next two years. Educating voters about these changes would cost counties hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ingoglia, and virtually every Republican pushing for this bill, has said Florida set an example in 2020 of how to efficiently run an election. Ingoglia said, “We shouldn’t rest on our laurels.”

We’re not stupid. This is nothing more than an attempt to appease Trump and his base while making it harder for minorities and Democrats, whose mail ballot returns outpaced Republicans last year, to vote. The irony is that, up until Trump, Republicans promoted mail voting, which helped them dominate state politics.

As Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley told a Senate committee earlier this month, these proposed changes seem to be “setting us up for another 2012, where we have long lines and chaos and confusion,” the Herald reported.

Long lines, confusion — and no water. That’s all clearly by design.

Meanwhile, Republicans have not been able to show instances of widespread voter fraud, abuse of drop boxes or any fraud involving water bottles.

Yet they insist reforms are needed to restore voter confidence in the electoral process.

You know what else would accomplish that? Telling their base that Joe Biden won the 2020 elections fair and square, because, as guaranteed by the Constitution, eligible Americans cast their votes — fair and square.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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March 30

The Wall Street Journal on how trials are being run for those accused of unlawfully entering the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot:

The Justice Department wants to make a firm statement about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which was a national disgrace. But as the criminal cases make their way through the courts, there are signs of prosecutorial overreach.

Last week District Judge Amit Mehta threatened to issue a gag order after one Justice Department official gave an interview to CBS about cases, and others floated the possibility of sedition charges to the New York Times. The judge, who was appointed by President Obama, summoned a hearing “to make clear to everyone that this case will not be tried in the media.” He said government leaks “have the potential of affecting the jury pool and the rights of these defendants.”

Other judges are starting to question the government’s heavy-handed approach to defendants charged with unlawfully entering the Capitol but not attacking police or destroying property. Politico reported Tuesday that “at least five Jan. 6 defendants were released in recent days over prosecutors’ objections.”

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday clarified that the political significance of the Capitol riot does not supersede defendants’ right to due process. “We have a grave constitutional obligation to ensure that the facts and circumstances of each case warrant this exceptional treatment,” the court held in ordering a lower court to reconsider the detention of two defendants awaiting trial.

The third judge on the panel, Gregory Katsas, went further in a partial concurrence: “The district court described the charged offenses as ‘grave,’ asserted that ‘few offenses are more threatening to our way of life,’ and quoted at length from George Washington’s Farewell Address. But none of the charged offenses is a Class A or Class B felony.”

There’s bipartisan agreement that events like the Capitol riots must be vigorously deterred. But if the Justice Department fails to look at cases individually and instead lets itself get swept up in a politicized narrative about a battle for democracy, it will further damage the legitimacy that democracy depends on.

Online: https://www.wsj.com/

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March 30

The (Vancouver) Columbian on the death of writer Beverly Cleary:

There is, inherently, a timelessness to great writing. Beverly Cleary was a great writer.

“Don’t pester, Ramona,” said Mrs. Quimby. “I’ll get you there in plenty of time.”

“I’m not pestering,” protested Ramona, who never meant to pester. She was not a slowpoke grownup. She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting that she had to find out what happened next.

Cleary, who died last week at the age of 104, set out to write books about normal kids living normal lives, using her childhood in Portland as a template. There were no wizards or crime-solving or magical nannies; there were children who play with their dogs and ride their bikes and have parents who occasionally quarrel.

That formula sparked enough imaginations for Cleary to sell an estimated 90 million books and help generations of youngsters learn to read.

As columnist David Von Drehle writes in The Washington Post: “Cleary accomplished something that few writers have even attempted. She wrote brilliantly about childhood as it really is. . . . To inhabit the lives of children without distorting or condescending is an imaginative feat of the highest order.”

The benefits are extraordinary. As the American Academy of Pediatrics has noted, reading to and reading with children from an early age provides lifelong benefits and enhances future academic success. It also broadens their view of the world and helps them process their own corner of it while developing positive life-long habits.

Studies have shown that avid readers of all ages have more empathy than nonreaders and a broader understanding of the world.

Perhaps we are biased by a bit of provincialism when it comes to Cleary, because she holds a special place in the Northwest.

Her stories often were set among the streets and parks of Northeast Portland, especially Klickitat Street. Today, the neighborhood features Beverly Cleary School as part of Portland Public Schools, and nearby Grant Park has a Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden that features statues of some of her most beloved characters.

But Washington also can lay claim to part of Cleary’s legacy. She graduated from the School of Librarianship at the University of Washington, worked as a librarian in Yakima, and has received the highest alumni honor at UW. The university also has established the Beverly Cleary Endowed Chair for Children and Youth Services.

All of that – in addition to Cleary being honored with a National Medal of Art – originated when she was a librarian and saw children frustrated that they could not find books about kids like themselves. So she took to writing them.

Childhood has changed since the era depicted in Cleary’s books, and she told The Washington Post in 2016: “I think children today have a tough time, because they don’t have the freedom to run around as I did – and they have so many scheduled activities.”

Yet the adventures she penned still resonate today, sparking and celebrating curiosity and imaginative play. In so doing, Cleary creates characters that children can relate to, imbuing them with impishness and meddlesomeness. About her most beloved character, Ramona Quimby, she said: “Things just didn’t work out the way she thought they should.”

That remains part of the charm. As website Literary Hub wrote on Twitter last week: “RIP to the great Beverly Cleary, who taught girls to embrace their ‘too muchness.’”

In that, Cleary’s books and her writing remain timeless.

Online: https://www.columbian.com/

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March 29

The Washington Post on the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was charged in the death of George Floyd:

The first witness the prosecution called in the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd was a 911 dispatcher who watched the arrest unfold in real time on a surveillance camera. So long did the restraint go on that she wondered if the camera feed had frozen. “My instincts were telling me that something’s wrong,” she testified, explaining why she took the unusual step of reporting the officers’ use of force.

Her instincts — as the world knows from its own viewing of video footage of the May 25 events at that Minneapolis street corner — proved to be terrifyingly and tragically accurate. Something is clearly wrong when an arrest for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill ends up with a 46-year-old Black man gasping for air, pleading for help — and dying. Floyd’s death triggered nationwide protests and questioning about race, policing and social justice. A jury in Minnesota now faces one specific question: whether to hold Derek Chauvin, the officer who pinned Floyd under his knee for more than nine minutes — nine minutes and 29 seconds, to be exact — criminally responsible. He is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and he faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charge.

“You’ll be the judge of the facts, and I’ll be the judge of the law,” Hennepin County District Judge Peter A. Cahill told the 12-member, racially diverse jury Monday at the start of a trial that is expected to be one of the most closely watched in years. Court TV is providing live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the proceedings. It is fitting that a public that watched Floyd’s death can now witness whether there is a reckoning.

Jerry W. Blackwell, one of the prosecutors, played the video during his opening arguments to drive home how Mr. Chauvin did not “let up” or “get up.” Floyd said 27 times he couldn’t breathe, and a crowd that formed called repeatedly on police to get up because it was clear Floyd was in distress. “While he’s crying out, Mr. Chauvin never moves,” the prosecutor told the jury. “You can believe your eyes, that it’s homicide, it’s murder.”

Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer argued there is more to the case than the video, contending that Floyd’s death was caused by his underlying heart disease and drug use; he even blamed the crowd for posing a threat and diverting officers’ attention from Floyd. “You will learn,” said Eric J. Nelson, “that Derek Chauvin was doing exactly what he had been trained to do during the course of his 19-year career.”

We hope no jury can accept that a police officer would be trained to be so willing to cause harm and so indifferent to human suffering.

Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

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March 29

The Los Angles Times on several bills throughout the U.S. looking to ban transgender students from competing in girls’ sports on all school levels:

Judging from the news coming out of half the legislative halls of America, you would think that the biggest problem facing women’s sports hasn’t been athletes being sexually abused but girls who were born with penises taking all the glory from those born with vaginas.

Out of all the things that give one student-athlete an advantage over another — more athleticism, better equipment, talented older siblings, more money for private training — these legislatures are focused on only one: whether transgender girls and women are unfairly beating other females in various school sports.

Lawmakers in at least 25 states are seeking to ban transgender students from competing in girls’ teams in middle and high schools and in college. At least two states so far have made it law.

It’s conservative political grandstanding — a sequel to the intolerant “bathroom bills” a few years ago that sought to ban transgender people from the bathrooms of their sex — that can only result in a non-solution to an almost nonexistent problem.

Despite the anecdotes of outrage — cisgender girls who claim they would have taken more trophies home if it weren’t for transgender athletes competing — the science and data simply don’t bear this out. In 2018-19, about 3.4 million girls took part in high school sports alone, according to a survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Yet complaints about transgender female athletes are so rare that, if not exactly a unicorn, they’re akin to the wild wolf population of California. Legislators in most of the states admitted to The Associated Press that they knew of no examples at all but were introducing the bills to stave off possible situations in the future.

Though the legislative movement is based mainly on intolerance, it has swept the nation because unlike other acts of hatred toward transgender people, it has a toehold on reality. The higher levels of testosterone in those born biologically male can lead a transgender female to be taller and more muscular, which can be advantageous in some sports. Not all sports, mind you; when it comes to the flexibility needed to excel in women’s gymnastics, for example, cisgender female bodies hold the advantage.

But it’s not that simple. For those who begin transitioning before puberty, which is increasingly common, hormone therapy prevents any physical advantages. And even in those who take hormone therapy later in life, the NCAA says, extra musculature and endurance dissipate within a year of treatment. NCAA rules prohibit trans female athletes from competing in women’s events until they have completed one year of testosterone suppression.

It’s not as though transgender women are sweeping all the sports events. CeCé Telfer, the first openly transgender woman to win an NCAA title (she transitioned while in college), lost plenty of track events running hurdles for Franklin Pierce University and said that her height actually handicapped her in some events. Two days after a Connecticut high school runner filed a lawsuit seeking to ban transgender runners from girls’ track, saying she was being deprived of championship wins, she beat one of those runners for two state championship titles. The transgender girl came in 16th in one of those races.

California has protected the rights of transgender student-athletes for eight years now — Los Angeles Unified School District for even longer — without major upset or complaints.

The thrust of the (very rare) complaints about trans female athletes in high school is that these girls might receive college scholarships that otherwise would have gone to cisgender girls. But coaches say they look at applicants’ individual results — such as their times in races — not whether they were the winners of particular events.

At the Olympic or professional level, where the stakes are higher and careers can be long-lasting, it makes sense for tight rules and testing on testosterone levels that might give some athletes an advantage. But at the school and college level, the top priority should be inclusion, especially considering the taunting and rejection that often greet transgender youth.

Sports are a way to gain a feeling of belonging, as well as to build physical health and reduce stress. The benefit — and basic fairness — of providing that opportunity to trans female athletes vastly outweighs any rare, relatively minor boost to their performance.

Online: https://www.latimes.com/

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March 25

The Guardian on the conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia:

After months of denials, Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed has finally admitted what everyone knew about the conflict in the Tigray region: Eritrean troops are present alongside the federal military, and atrocities have been reported.

War is “a nasty thing”, he added – a remark that barely scratched the surface of the terrible human toll. Thousands have died since fighting began in November, many of them civilians. This week, the heads of nine UN agencies and other officials demanded a halt to attacks against non-combatants, including rape and other sexual violence. Médecins Sans Frontières reported that its staff had witnessed at least four men being dragged from buses and shot dead this week. Almost 70% of medical facilities in the region have been deliberately looted, vandalised or destroyed, with only 13% functioning normally, while schools have been occupied by fighters. Even refugee camps have been targeted.

There is now extensive evidence that Eritrean forces killed hundreds of civilians, including children as young as 13, in Axum in November and reports that they killed more than 160 in the village of Dengolat. Witnesses have accused members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of massacring scores and probably hundreds of civilians at Mai-Kadra in western Tigray in the same month. Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, warned earlier this month of ethnic cleansing in western Tigray, where armed forces from the neighbouring Amhara region have joined the federal army against the TPLF, saying they are reclaiming stolen land.

The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s governing coalition for decades, and its leaders were angered by their loss of power when Mr Abiy took office. When he delayed elections, citing the pandemic, the Tigray government defied him by holding polls, with both sides subsequently refusing to recognise the other’s legitimacy. Tigrayan forces then captured the federal military command in the region, triggering a federal offensive which they were already expecting. Federal troops subsequently took the regional capital and established an interim administration. But fighting continues and there are signs that abuses by troops are encouraging young Tigrayans to take up arms.

Three-quarters of Tigray’s population are now said to be dependent on aid, with hundreds of thousands on the brink of starvation. An estimated 2 million have been internally displaced, and 60,000 more have fled to Sudan. The growing international attention to Tigray, including President Joe Biden’s decision to dispatch his close ally Senator Chris Coons to Addis Ababa this week, probably prompted Mr Abiy’s decision to come clean about the Eritrean troops, and to say that soldiers will be held accountable if they commit crimes. But it has not ended Eritrea’s role, or the culture of impunity for combatants.

Mr Abiy’s admissions this week, increased media and humanitarian access to the region, and the announcement of a joint investigation by the UN and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, show that international pressure can have an effect. But while the increased attention from the EU, the US and others is welcome, the parties appear to have little interest in finding a political solution. For now the focus must be on protecting civilians, ending the culture of impunity which fuels war crimes, and working towards a cessation of hostilities that would allow aid to reach all those who need it, and farmers to prepare their land as planting season approaches. The swiftness of Ethiopia’s descent into this war is unlikely to be matched by the speed of its exit.

Online: https://www.theguardian.com/

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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