Editorial Roundup: U.S.

·18-min read

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

June 29

The Miami Herald on a disturbing, larger question in Surfside condo collapse:

South Florida’s long and sordid history of shoddy building practices is hard to ignore in the wake of the Surfside building’s partial collapse.

We don’t know yet what caused the horrific failure on Thursday at the Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside.

We are not suggesting that any corners were cut during construction, or that insufficient inspections or overdue maintenance played roles. It’s possible that climate change, nearby construction of another high-rise or reported “major structural damage” caused by improper pool-deck drainage affected the integrity of the building.

We are holding our elected officials accountable for a thorough, honest and urgent investigation into the causes of this still-unfolding tragedy to determine what caused it.

But we do know a lot about the way construction was done in South Florida in 1981, when this condo was erected.

Condominium construction was red-hot then, fueled in part by what would turn out to be a disastrous deregulation of the nation’s savings and loans associations. We know that building codes for single-family homes during that era were weak, and enforcement was lax, something that became terribly apparent when Hurricane Andrew roared through southern Miami-Dade County.

We know that, even though entire neighborhoods were flattened, the homes that stood up the best to the Category 5 storm’s winds turned out to be the ones where developers spent more money to build stronger homes.

And we know that the hardening of the building code, triggered by Andrew’s damage, was long overdue and likely has saved lives in the decades since.

So when we look the images of the destruction in Surfside, we’d be fools not to wonder whether slipshod construction and look-the-other-way enforcement of that era played a part. Could faulty construction have allowed salt water and sea spray to penetrate the concrete enough to doom the building? If that happened, who should have noticed? What should have been done?

Residents of condos across Florida and beyond are watching developments here with anxiety about their own safety. The ramifications of what happened in Surfside likely are to be enormous.

Now, even as search teams continue to recover the bodies of victims — and pray for signs of life in the horrific, pancaked wreckage — authorities and journalists have been looking for any warning signs. The most significant, so far, seems to be an engineer’s report in 2018 that raised some red flags, saying concrete slabs on the garage entrance and under the pool deck had deteriorated, and that lack of proper drainage had caused “major structural damage.”

The report didn’t indicate a threat of imminent disaster, and a month later, Surfside’s chief building official told residents the condominium was “in very good shape,” according to minutes from a November 2018 board meeting obtained by the Miami Herald. Additionally, the building had begun its scheduled 40-year review and roof repairs had started.

Mass tragedies like this one often lead to serious changes in regulations, like those after Hurricane Andrew. If we learn that this condominium collapse could have been prevented with new and better building codes, more frequent inspections or tougher requirements for condo maintenance or construction, this disaster must serve as yet another turning point in building safety in Florida.

That will cost money, a lot of it. Retrofitting old buildings and constructing new ones to higher standards costs more. But if — as we learned post-Andrew — cost-cutting is what led to this disaster, we’ll have no choice. We’ll need to pay up, and just be grateful that we’re around to pay the bill.

ONLINE: https://www.miamiherald.com/article252418058.html

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June 27

The Omaha World-Herald on NCAA now must ensure a fair payday for college athletes:

The U.S. Supreme Court last week served notice to the NCAA that it “is not above the law” and that business as usual is ending.

The justices, in a 9-0 majority ruling and a concurring opinion from Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, said that the collegiate sports governing body could not restrict student-athletes’ education-related benefits, such as computers, graduate scholarships and overseas study. While the ruling was narrow in strict terms, the unanimous vote and the rhetoric of the opinions suggest that the justices would be inclined to rule in favor of students on bigger questions, such as seeking compensation for use of their name, image or likeness.

What that means is that student-athletes could get a cut from such things as jersey sales bearing their name, social media and other endorsements, and personal appearances.

For example:

“Price-fixing labor is price-fixing labor,” Kavanaugh wrote.

“Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate,” he wrote. “And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different.”

The language will encourage those who want athletes to get a share of the money generated by college sports, mainly from top football programs.

“It would not be a surprise to see future plaintiffs including direct quotes from his opinion,” said Michael A. Carrier, a professor at Rutgers Law School.

The free labor of college football players enables coaches and athletic directors to be paid millions. It supports other sports at schools, and in that way subsidizes Olympic development and other elements of the amazingly lucrative American sports ecosystem. For example, nearly all players on the U.S. women’s soccer team attended top-level schools whose coaches’ salaries are covered by strong football and/or basketball programs.

TV networks that cut deals with the NCAA and athletic conferences are watching with an eye toward new opportunities — which are likely to favor the most successful schools and leave the others running even harder to catch up.

Under current NCAA policy, students cannot be paid, and the scholarship money colleges can offer is capped at the cost of attending the school. The NCAA is struggling to come up with a name, image, likeness policy as several states, including Nebraska, have passed laws establishing their own rules.

We do believe it is only fair for, say, Adrian Martinez or Lexi Sun to be able to make money on jerseys, endorsements and appearances. Nebraska quarterbacks and volleyball players are good examples of athletes whose peak of popularity and marketability comes during college, when they help float the entire Athletic Department.

The NCAA wants Congress to set rules. And we would all like Congress to be able to function, but in this case, the NCAA can’t get away with trying to pass the buck.

It would like to avoid further litigation, but that’s just not going to happen in modern America. So rather than waiting for a court ruling that could throw out current restrictions without setting new rules, setting up a hodgepodge of rules under various state laws and individual university policies, the NCAA must take responsibility.

The NCAA is considered likely, for the short term, to issue only broad guidelines and let schools police themselves and try to keep things in the “spirit” of the rules. Athletes may be able to go out and drum up their own side deals, but brand building is a lot of work.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is ahead of the game in terms of setting up a structure to help its athletes — which will become essential for schools that want to be competitive at a high level.

And that points to both the need for a uniform policy and potential downsides.

Schools lagging in athletic success and exposure will be at an even greater recruiting disadvantage. They will be under tremendous pressure to set up marketing programs for their athletes. Some may drop football — putting at risk other sports and particularly women’s sports, which benefit from Title IX’s requirement that schools offer an equal number of scholarships to women as men.

The transfer portal, already puncturing the traditional feel of college sports by allowing easy movement from school to school, will be even fuller as student-athletes shop around for better deals.

To be as fair as possible and to minimize the inevitable effect on competitive imbalance, the NCAA must adopt a comprehensive approach and move into the future.

ONLINE: https://omaha.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-ncaa-must-step-up-and-create-uniform-policies-for-athletes-to-share-cash/article_90adafaa-d5d6-11eb-8976-4b84bfb43f36.html

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June 29

The Wall Street Journal on a surprising Supreme Court:

When is a case about a pipeline about more than the pipeline? When it produces a 5-4 Supreme Court decision with a surprising mix of conservative and liberal Justices on both sides. Their opinions reflect disagreements from the founding era over the role and power of the federal government.

Pipeline developer PennEast has been seeking to build a 116-mile pipeline between Pennsylvania and New Jersey since 2014. The Natural Gas Act of 1938 delegates the federal government’s eminent domain power to private parties once the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) certifies a pipeline.

PennEast had negotiated the route with New Jersey politicians, but Gov. Phil Murphy pulled a switcheroo and invoked state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to block the company from building on state-owned land. The Eleventh Amendment bars states from being sued in federal court by private citizens of other states. New Jersey argued that FERC’s eminent domain delegation doesn’t apply to state land. Chief Justice John Roberts along with Justices Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Brett Kavanaugh disagreed.

The Chief explains for the majority that “for as long as the eminent domain power has been exercised by the United States, it has also been delegated to private parties.” The Court has long also held that the feds can use eminent domain to condemn state property, which it can then transfer to a private company.

Congress in the Natural Gas Act, the Chief points out, specifically delegated its eminent domain power because states were “impeding interstate pipeline development by withholding access to their own eminent domain procedures.” New Jersey’s gambit would “violate the basic principle that a State may not diminish the eminent domain authority of the federal sovereign.”

The minority argues that “Congress cannot authorize private suits against a nonconsenting State pursuant” to its Article I powers including to regulate interstate commerce, as the Court held in Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida (1996). But this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule.

The Court has granted some exceptions such as under the Bankruptcy Clause and when the States agreed “in the plan of the Convention” not to assert any sovereign immunity defense. Here is the crux of legal disagreement. The majority says states consented to such suits when they ratified the Constitution while the minority differs.

Both sides make compelling cases based on the Constitution’s structure. Justice Amy Coney Barrett writes in a dissent joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch that the “Constitution limits the means by which the Federal Government can impose its will on the States” and sovereign immunity was a “deliberately chosen feature of the constitutional design.”

True, but as the Chief rejoins, the Framers “sought to create a cohesive national sovereign in response to the failings of the Articles of Confederation” and eminent domain delegations have given “effect to that vision, connecting our country through turnpikes, bridges, and railroads—and more recently pipelines, telecommunications infrastructure, and electric transmission facilities.”

The 5-4 ruling is good for U.S. energy development, but it also shows that the Court with its two new Justices is far from a lockstep ideological battering ram. The Justices are seriously grappling with serious constitutional issues, with often surprising majority coalitions.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/this-surprising-supreme-court-11625005939

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June 28

The Los Angeles Times on ‘heat domes’ and climate change:

The record-breaking heat wave baking the West Coast is another painful sign that climate change is here, and we have to adapt.

The Pacific Northwest has been sizzling, with conditions forecasters have described as unprecedented and life-threatening. Portland, Ore., hit 113 degrees Monday, breaking the previous all-time high of 112 degrees, set Sunday. About 100 miles to the south, in Eugene, the U.S. track and field Olympic trials were halted Sunday afternoon, and spectators were asked to evacuate the stadium, due to the extreme heat.

Seattle hit 107 degrees, also a record high. It was so hot in recent days that the city closed at least one public pool amid concerns that visitors would burn their feet on the deck. And further north, the town of Lytton in British Columbia hit 116 degrees Sunday, the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada.

All of this is happening in June — the very beginning of summer. If it wasn’t already clear that climate change is fueling more extreme weather patterns, this unprecedented heat wave is another blistering example. There is surely more to come, as the heat dome responsible for the record-breaking temperatures is expected to linger in the Northwest, moving slowly toward Idaho and Montana.

Yet in a sense, the furnace-like conditions are just a replay of last year, which tied 2016 for the hottest year on record. Not coincidentally, 2020 was also the worst year on record for wildfires, with more than 10 million acres burned. And this trend is bound to continue as temperatures are driven upward by the warming effects of human activities that spew carbon and other heat-trapping compounds into the atmosphere.

The current heat wave is another visceral reminder that the world is not moving fast enough to curtail the use of fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions. To prevent the worst effects of climate change will take dramatic change on the part of the world’s industrialized nations, most especially the United States.

But, alas, it’s not enough to focus on weaning ourselves from carbon fuels. As this heat wave demonstrates, we are already feeling the effects of climate change, and we are woefully unprepared.

Just think about how higher-than-normal temperatures in the Pacific Northwest have crippled basic infrastructure. In Washington, the state patrol closed a portion of a highway after the asphalt started to crack and buckle under the heat. In some areas — unaccustomed to such weather — school buses had no air conditioning and couldn’t safely transport students to summer school.

In Portland, the city’s light rail and streetcars were taken out of service. The transit system was designed for mild weather, with temperatures typically between 40 and 70 degrees. While the transit agency has made adjustments to the system in recent years to withstand more intense heat, it cannot safely operate when the mercury goes above 110 degrees, as it did on Sunday and Monday.

Many of the country’s roads, transit systems, dams, levees and energy grids were built decades ago, designed for different temperatures and less-extreme weather fluctuations. A record-breaking heat wave in California last summer triggered rolling blackouts; heat-driven outages will be a risk this year, too. A record-breaking cold snap in Texas earlier this year also led to mass power outages. The nation’s infrastructure is not prepared to withstand the onslaught of climate change, which can push temperatures to extremes in both directions.

U.S. lawmakers are beginning to act on the seriousness of the threat. The $1.2-trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill includes funding to modernize energy, transportation and water systems. The bill also includes $47 billion specifically for projects aimed at making our infrastructure more resilient to climate change. But the compromise package has, so far, shortchanged investments in clean energy, clean transportation and large-scale climate-proofing.

The need is great, and the funding is still too little. The reality is that climate change will cost the United States, no matter how quickly it responds. We can pay now to avoid greater damage or pay later, when the nation is forced to manage more deadly heat waves, wildfires, floods and other disasters.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-06-28/west-coast-heat

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June 23

The Telegraph on few options for Afghanistan as Taliban surges:

As feared, the imminent departure of the remaining Nato troops from Afghanistan has emboldened the Taliban to fill the power vacuum. On Monday, the organisation’s fighters took control of a key district in northern Kunduz province and encircled the provincial capital. The insurgents have chalked up a string of battlefield victories over government forces as they pursue an accompanying campaign of assassination and intimidation against westernised Afghanis.

The last American troops were due to leave this month under a timetable set by former president Donald Trump. This was extended until September 11 by Joe Biden who is contemplating another slow-down to thwart further Taliban gains.

But will this make any difference without an enhanced military commitment that no one wants? This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first troop deployment in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, making it America’s longest war. Popular pressure in the US for a full withdrawal is strong.

One aim of the Nato coalition was to train and equip the Afghani police and army to stand up to the Taliban, but recent setbacks indicate that this is wishful thinking despite the confidence of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, who is in Washington for talks this week.

Meanwhile, the insurgents have seized huge quantities of military kit left behind by Nato forces, further strengthening their position. Any residual hope lies in the search for a political settlement which continues despite a halt to talks. The prospect of the US staying for longer might encourage the Taliban back to the negotiating table. But as the clock ticks down to September 11, they are less inclined to do so.

ONLINE: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2021/06/23/resurgent-taliban-leaves-west-options/

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June 29

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on ‘new’ ocean shows how consensus evolves:

As much as political leaders and pundits like to cite scientific consensus as unarguable fact, consensus can change. New classification schemes can emerge. New information can shake loose even the most firmly held beliefs as the scientific method is impartial to politics or patronage. This flexibility and willingness to learn is key to discovery and to human knowledge.

Still, it can be jarring when basic truths seem to abruptly shift. Things like the number of planets or, say, the number of oceans on Earth.

The National Geographic Society announced in June that it will include a fifth ocean in its maps of the Earth’s waters, recognizing the Southern Ocean as a distinct body.

Distinguished by the fierce east-flowing Arctic Circumpolar Current, this ocean extends from the coast of Antarctica to 60 degrees south latitude. The scientific community, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has recognized the existence of the fifth ocean since 1999, but there weren’t clearly defined boundaries, and that recognition hasn’t yet translated to public knowledge.

Now, 22 years later, the recognition of the Southern Ocean by one of the world’s leading mapping authorities will likely begin pushing this reclassification into the public consciousness, especially given that many schools and teachers rely on National Geographic for its free online materials in teaching geography.

This isn’t the first time in recent decades Americans have woken up to discover something they knew for fact suddenly wasn’t true. Adults above a certain age were taught that there are nine celestial masses orbiting our sun, as Pluto was discovered in 1930 and deemed to be the ninth.

Later, astronomers recategorized Pluto as a dwarf planet, reducing the number of planets in the solar system to eight. There was sizable public outcry against Pluto’s “demotion,” but the decision stuck.

Classification systems matter. “Dwarf planet” doesn’t seem as important as an official planet. And on the other end of the spectrum, recasting the water around Antarctica as the Southern Ocean could raise public awareness about the area, which contains some of the fastest warming spaces on the planet as the climate changes and plays a key role in global weather patterns.

The newly minted Southern Ocean should serve as a reminder that knowledge evolves, that skepticism and constant interrogation of the way people think about their world is good, that flexibility in assimilating new information is important and that curiosity is essential.

ONLINE: https://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/editorials/2021/06/30/National-Geographic-s-decision-to-include-five-oceans-on-its-maps-is-a-reminder-that-consensus-evolves/stories/202106110052

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