Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times on ending cash-register justice:
Toward the end of the Obama administration, the Justice Department called on judges to end the cash-register system of justice that had taken root across the country. In what is a clearly unconstitutional practice, people in localities nationwide were being sent to jail solely because they were too poor to pay the fines and fees that municipalities increasingly rely on for revenue.
Some states heeded the advice, and progress was made. Now, a report from the United States Commission on Civil Rights shows what the Trump Justice Department needs to do to keep the momentum up for reform.
The Obama administration brought this issue out into the open in 2015 during its investigation of policing in the racially troubled city of Ferguson, Mo., which exploded in violence in 2014 after a police officer shot and killed a black teenager named Michael Brown. Investigators found that the city’s policing tactics were both discriminatory and driven by a city budget that relied heavily on fines and fees associated with minor violations.
In a quest for revenue, Ferguson officers trapped poor and minority citizens in a Kafka-esque cycle that began with fines they could not pay and led to crippling financial penalties, revoked driver’s licenses, jail time, lost jobs and ruined lives. The investigation showed that municipalities had essentially recreated debtor prisons, violating the Constitution by punishing people for being poor.
Last year, the Justice Department followed up its Ferguson report with a letter asking court systems nationwide to be vigilant against similar policies. It explained that the courts had an obligation to ask people about their ability to pay before jailing them for nonpayment and were also bound to consider alternatives like community service or extended payment plans. The department also awarded grants to state courts in five states to help develop new approaches to fine and fee enforcement.
According to the Civil Rights Commission report, Texas will use some of its grant for an automated system that judges can use to determine inability to pay. Beyond that, a national task force financed by the Justice Department created a blueprint for state reforms, with model laws and ideas about how to prevent local governments and traffic courts from lapsing into unconstitutional practices.
Some judges have been outspoken about unfair use of fines. Last year, for example, the chief justice of Arizona issued an administrative order authorizing judges to mitigate mandatory fines and fees if the amount imposed an economic hardship and advised a state task force to take other steps. The chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court went further this year, admonishing politicians for treating the courts like “A.T.M.s,” and pointing out, “No one in America should be sent to jail — or threatened with jail — solely because they are poor.”
The Dallas Morning News on President Donald Trump naming a climate denier to an environmental post:
Kathleen Hartnett White is a bad choice to head the national Council on Environmental Quality.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she would lead a White House office that’s traditionally known as an environmental watchdog. Her performance as an environmental regulator in Texas, however, suggests that she would walk lock step with the Trump administration and Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency in dismantling vital environmental protections.
President Donald Trump named White, a climate change denier, to the position last week.
Her record is abominable. White consistently sided with business interests at the expense of public health as chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. She lobbied for lax ozone standards and, at a time when all but the most ardent fossil fuel apologists understood that coal isn’t the nation’s future, White signed a permit for a lignite-fired power plant, ignoring evidence that emissions from the lignite plant could thwart North Texas’ efforts to meet air quality standards.
That’s why this newspaper steadfastly questioned her leadership at the Texas commission and called her an apologist for energy interests.
We weren’t the only ones dismayed by her record. In 2003, the state auditor concluded that the White-led Texas commission failed to hold violators accountable for breaking the law, applied fines that amounted to barely 40 per cent of the profits the companies made by breaking the law, and introduced policies that weakened its own regulations.
Since leaving the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality in 2007 after six years, White has become an outspoken critic of climate change policies and the science behind them. In her writings, she advocates for more coal production, argues against adding renewable energy to the power grid and opposes the Environmental Protection Agency’s treatment of carbon dioxide as a pollutant despite countless studies that show it is.
White’s unsuitability for the national council is clear. She is a senior fellow and formerly lobbied for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based think-tank that is a major opponent of taking action to combat climate change.
Coal will contribute to the nation’s short-term energy portfolio but not to the country’s long-term energy future. Texas is a national leader in solar and wind energy — no thanks to White, who called renewables “a false hope that simply won’t work.”
And her support of coal-fired power plants flies in the face of reality. About 262 coal-fired power plants, more than half of the nation’s coal-fired plants, have been retired or have announced plans to close since 2010, according to the Sierra Club. That includes plans by energy generator Luminant to close three coal-fired power plants in Texas due to low electricity prices and competition from power generated by natural gas and renewable sources.
With the country rapidly moving away from coal as a source of electricity, White’s embrace of coal shows how out of touch she is.
The nation needs a White House adviser who respects science and seeks a reasoned balance between energy needs and environmental protections. Kathleen Hartnett White does neither.
Congress should reject this nomination.
Why Kathleen Hartnett White is wrong for the job?
— Failed to consistently hold violators accountable for breaking laws, applied minuscule fines for violations and weakened the Texas commission’s own regulations.
— Voted to approve pollution-intensive coal units despite evidence that emissions could impede North Texas’ efforts to meet air quality standards.
— Contended “carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.”
— Criticized Stanford University’s decision to divest from coal as a “symbol for the elite that regrettably reflects indifference to the poor across the world who have never seen a light switch.”
— Described Pope Francis’ visit to America as “a reminder of the extent to which pure propaganda now circumscribes public discourse about climate change.”
SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research
The Toronto Star on ending the culture of silence around sexual assault:
By now the sordid details of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual assaults on numerous actresses and models, first reported in the New York Times and The New Yorker, are well-known.
What is now the subject of much angst and analysis is how to end the culture of silence that enabled the famous producer to get away with such appalling behaviour for three decades.
As it turns out, Weinstein was the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Even as he demeaned women he was hiding out in plain sight among rich and famous actors, producers and politicians playing the role of a liberal and — brace yourself — a feminist.
Consider the irony that his Weinstein Company once distributed a documentary, The Hunting Ground, on campus sexual assault. Or that he and his family have contributed more than $1.4 million to the Democratic Party since 1992, including $46,350 to Hillary Clinton. Or that he employed Malia Obama, daughter of former president Barack Obama, as an intern. Or that he helped endow a university chair in the name of Gloria Steinem.
All the while, as at least 32 women, including Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, now publicly attest, he was luring women to hotel rooms on the pretext of having a business meeting and attacking them in a disgustingly abusive manner. At least three of his accusers allege he raped them, including actress Rose McGowan who has taken to Twitter to out him. (Weinstein doesn’t deny the encounters, only “any allegations of non-consensual sex.”)
Most disturbingly, we now know these allegations are likely only the tip of the iceberg because of the culture of silence that surrounds sexual assault.
What this story, then, is really about is a society where money and power can still buy silence and with it indemnity and, ultimately, impunity.
Not only has that old saw of the “casting couch” not changed in 2017, some might argue the working world is becoming more dangerous for women as lawyers create legal walls that the powerful can hide behind.
That must end. And a close look at how Weinstein — and others like him — create that cone of silence should help pave the way to prevent future predatory acts by the powerful.
First, his board of directors (they were all men at The Weinstein Company) did not act on allegations of sexual harassment that came to their attention. Second, the company’s human resources department existed to protect managers, not employees. Third, lawyers silenced employees with non-disclosure agreements, victims with gag-settlements, and Weinstein intimidated those who might still be thinking of protesting with threats of expensive lawsuits and ruined careers.
Sadly, The Weinstein Company is not alone in covering up salacious behaviour among its top executives and talent. Earlier this year the New York Times revealed that Fox News not only stood by TV anchor Bill O’Reilly as he faced a series of allegations of sexual harassment, but it made some of the payouts to women in exchange for them agreeing not to pursue litigation or speak about the accusations. Two of those payouts came after Fox dismissed CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment and claimed it would not tolerate that behaviour in others.
Finally, the legal system too often keeps women from speaking out for fear they won’t be believed. Even when there was a tape, as there was with Weinstein from a 2015 sting operation, prosecutors failed to go after him.
Still, since the revelations first appeared in the Times, actions have been taken that are cause for hope.
Weinstein has been fired by the late-to-act remaining directors at The Weinstein Company, his wife, Georgina Chapman, has left him and taken their kids, he has been publicly condemned by actors like George Clooney and politicians like Hillary Clinton, and companies including Apple and Amazon are cutting ties with him and his company. And police in New York and London are reopening investigations to see if charges should be laid against him.
So will the “outing” of Weinstein make a difference to a woman’s right to work without fear of sexual harassment or assault?
Happily, yes. First, there is a snowball effect from women, like McGowan, who refuse to be intimidated or shamed into silence. Even faced with a legal system with a dismal record of holding men to account, women have come forward in the last two years to denounce powerful men like Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, and Weinstein in the U.S. and Jian Ghomeshi in Canada.
Further hope can be found in the fact we are now living in a world that openly and honestly debates “rape culture” and where the media, at least, are calling out sexual predators.
In Canada there is hope, too, in legislation that requires universities to establish sexual assault protocols and new judges to take training in how to handle sexual assault cases.
It also helps when famous men like Canadian actor Ryan Gosling take a stand with women and point out that Weinstein’s behaviour is not acceptable or isolated, but is “a systemic problem.”
So it is. But the tide is shifting. At last women are speaking out — and not just being heard, but being believed. That’s progress.
The Orange County Register on government abuse of surveillance powers:
The Congress will soon have the choice of either reining in government abuses of surveillance powers or perpetuating them.
With Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act set to expire on Dec. 31, civil liberties advocates are making a needed push for reforms to protect Americans from warrantless surveillance.
Section 702 allows the government to conduct surveillance of non-Americans located outside the U.S. without a warrant. While ostensibly intended to collect information solely on non-Americans, with about 100,000 people targeted for surveillance every year, it is inevitable that the communications of Americans are also collected.
While the director of National Intelligence has, to date, refused to produce figures as to how many Americans have had their communications “incidentally collected,” despite requests from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, as far back as 2011, the idea that the government is collecting and storing Americans’ information obtained without a warrant is untenable.
Though the federal government is hardly transparent about its surveillance practices, we do know that through the so-called “backdoor search loophole,” the government may search through National Security Agency databases for information about Americans collected through Section 702.
Among the most blatant abuses of Section 702 was the practice of collecting communications not just to or from foreign targets but merely about the foreign target. In 2011, this “about” surveillance was found by Judge John Bates, then chief judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to have resulted in the collection of tens of thousands of domestic emails and other internet communications and violating the constitutional rights of Americans. After some safeguards were put in place, the practice was allowed to continue, until being ended by the NSA this past April.
With the looming sunset of Section 702, there is an opportunity to close the backdoor search loophole and permanently end “about” surveillance.
One pitch to reform and extend Section 702 is the USA Liberty Act of 2017 introduced by members of the House Judiciary Committee, including Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, and John Conyers, D-Michigan.
On the bright side, the bill would prohibit “about” collections until September 2023, and in the case of certain criminal investigations, require a warrant to be obtained before the government can review the content of communications collected under Section 702.
But unfortunately these reforms don’t go nearly far enough. For one, “about” collections should be permanently prohibited. Second, the bill only partly closes the backdoor search loophole and allows warrantless searching of 702 data so long as it’s done in the name of “foreign intelligence.” Further, the bill should at least require an estimate as to how many Americans have had their communications collected without a warrant.
As Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement, “The bill would still allow the CIA, NSA, FBI, and other agencies to search through emails, text messages, and phone calls for information about people in the U.S. without a probable cause warrant from a judge.”
The reform bill is a step in the right direction, but needs to be strengthened. Unless the Congress can fulfil its responsibility to defend the constitutional rights of Americans, and put in place strict limits on surveillance powers, Section 702 should simply be allowed to expire.
The Chicago Tribune on protecting baseball fans from foul balls:
When Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber connect at the plate, their exit velocity — the speed at which the ball leaves the bat — often exceeds 100 mph. A ball hit that hard travels 146 feet in about a second. And spectators sitting far closer to home plate than that are unprotected and virtually helpless. The netting at Chicago’s Wrigley Field extends only far enough to shield Cubs fans sitting within 70 feet. Netting at Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the White Sox, offers similar protection, in line with the current recommendations from Major League Baseball.
Last season, a fan sitting close to the field at Wrigley was hit by a ball that broke his nose and cost him his left eye. He’s suing the Cubs and Major League Baseball for alleged negligence in not providing longer netting. Three weeks ago, a 2-year-old girl at Yankees Stadium was hospitalized after a foul smashed her in the face at an estimated 105 mph. In 1970, a 14-year-old California boy died of traumatic head injuries after being struck by a lined foul at a Los Angeles Dodgers-San Francisco Giants game in Dodger Stadium. And baseballs aren’t the only danger: Bats occasionally go flying into the stands.
Baseball stadiums are places that fans go to relax, drink beer, eat hot dogs and chat with their friends. Getting a serious injury from a screaming projectile is not in anyone’s plan. But a 2014 report by Bloomberg News found that 1,750 fans are hurt by foul balls each season.
MLB deserves credit for finally paying more attention to the risk. In 2015, it recommended that each team provide netting to shield all seats within 70 feet of home plate, roughly to the home-plate edge of each dugout.
After the incident at Yankee Stadium, commissioner Rob Manfred said, “We will redouble our efforts on this important issue.” The Cubs, for their part, have promised to add at least 30 feet to their nets at Wrigley next season. A White Sox spokesman says architects and engineers are studying options. Any new recommendations from MLB could be implemented in time for Opening Day 2018.
The Yankees are one of the minority of teams that have declined to meet MLB’s recommended minimum. But even 70 feet leaves a lot of fans perilously exposed. A woman at the White Sox’s park was sitting about 30 feet beyond the visitors’ dugout when a ball hit her in the mouth last month. A New York City councilman has proposed requiring local stadiums to install netting from foul pole to foul pole. In Japan, some stadiums have netting that extends that far.
Here, the City Council Finance Committee recently approved a resolution asking the Cubs and Sox to go beyond the MLB recommendation “to ensure the continued safe enjoyment of this storied pastime.” Even if it passes the full council, though, the measure carries no mandate.
We hope the two Chicago clubs will take this discussion as a chance to stop treating safety as a nuisance. Protecting fans ought to be at the top of the list of ways to improve the ballpark experience. No one goes to a game to see a bleeding spectator carried out on a gurney.
That includes players. Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, who was on the field at Yankee Stadium when the toddler was hit, was adamant afterward that “every stadium needs to have nets. That’s it. I don’t care about the damn view of the fan or what. It’s all about safety. I still have a knot in my stomach.”
Teams could furnish far more protection, or local governments could force them to. Or everybody could wait until someone else gets killed.
The Florida Times-Union on checks and balances for a nuclear first strike:
Serious questions arising about the judgment of President Donald Trump call for Congress to step up and provide checks and balances.
The powers of the imperial presidency have been building long before Trump took office.
But the dangers are more apparent than ever.
Concerns about Trump’s level of discernment have been appearing through a flood of leaks in Washington.
Trump’s open talk about war with North Korea raises serious concerns that should not be ignored.
And the critics have been widespread; they aren’t just the usual and predictable opponents from the left.
Even loyal Trump backers like conservative columnist Ann Coulter have rounded on him. And one of Trump’s toughest critics has been The Wall Street Journal editorial page, the bible of the right.
Trump’s undisciplined tweets have gone far beyond the usual political posturing. The Washington Post fact checker has documented 1,318 false or misleading claims over 263 days. Even half that number would be troubling — and particularly so when the culpable person is the leader of the free world.
And that has led an avid Trump devotee like Newt Gingrich to admit there is “the big Trump” (the bold historic figure who became president against all odds) — and “the little Trump” (someone Gingrich calls “stupid”).
Trump attacks friends and foes alike.
Take Sen. Bob Corker, an early Trump supporter, a conservative Tennessee Republican and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Recently, Corker courageously commented about Trump on the record to The New York Times. Examples:
– “I know for a fact that every single day in the White House it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” Corker said. “At least today, we’ve got some very good people there, and they have been able to push back against his worst instincts.”
– “But the volatility is, to anyone who has been around, is to a degree alarming. But again, I don’t wish him harm. He’s got people around him that have been able to keep him, generally speaking, in the middle of the road. The tweets, especially as it relates to foreign policy issues, I know have been very damaging to us, O.K.”
– “And, you know, he doesn’t realize that, you know, that we could be heading toward World War III with the kinds of comments that he’s making.”
– “A lot of people think that there is some kind of ‘good cop-bad cop’ act underway, but that’s just not true.”
Trump was elected to shake up Washington, and it is apparent that being an agent of chaos is his management style. His promises that he could be presidential if he wanted to be cannot be believed.
The conservative Washington Examiner asked, “Is Trump the same guy who won in November?”
Quoting The Wall Street Journal’s editorials:
– “The president is a Party of One for whom personal loyalty is the only test.”
– Regarding those in the Trump administration and on Capitol Hill, “What they fear and want to contain are the president’s lack of discipline, short fuse, narcissism and habit of treating even foreign heads of state as if they are Rose O’Donnell.”
The Wall Street Journal calls on Congress and members of Trump’s Cabinet to act on their own in order to avoid being held hostage “to Trump’s impulsive turns.”
That’s an incredible statement, that the adults in Washington must work around the president, but it’s a fact. And that’s a scary scenario when nuclear war may be in play with North Korea.
Two Democratic members of Congress — Rep. Ted Lieu of California, a colonel in the Air Force reserves, and Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts — have submitted a bill that would require a Declaration of War before a first nuclear strike by the U.S.
This is a historic issue.
In fact, Congress has only issued formal declarations of war five times in history: The War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II.
Congress has issued less formal approvals of war, including the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that supported wider combat in Vietnam.
The War Powers Resolution of 1973 arising from the Vietnam War requires that the president report to Congress within 48 hours of introducing armed forces to hostilities and remove forces within 60 days if Congress-does not approve.
This basically gives the president 48 hours of unlimited power. And it’s presumed that the president must have the power to act in self-defence for the nation.
The War Powers Resolution was used in various military decisions from Grenada under President Ronald Reagan to the first Gulf War under President George H.W. Bush and the Iraq War under President George W. Bush.
But it would only take about 15 minutes to go through the procedures of firing nuclear weapons.
The Congressional Research Service confirmed that the president “does not need the concurrence of either his military advisers or the U.S. Congress” to use nuclear weapons.
And following Trump’s comments to the United Nations, concerns were raised in Congress. Trump told the U.N. that “if (the U.S.) is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
Corker told NPR that Congress is looking into the broad question of the involvement of Congress in a war involving the U.S.
The bill requiring a Declaration of War before a nuclear first strike deserves support because it should apply to every president, not just Trump.
The president still would have plenty of power to defend the U.S., but there would be restraint on a nuclear first strike.
Congress needs to assert its authority based on the checks and balances that are built into the Constitution.
Those checks are needed more than ever.