Editorial Roundup: U.S.

·17-min read

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Sept. 20

The Philadelphia Inquirer on protecting abortion rights in Pennsylvania:

In one legislative session after another, Pennsylvania Republicans have tried to limit access to abortion throughout the commonwealth — and the fall term that opens this week is poised to be no different.

The new session in Harrisburg starts against the backdrop of recent events in Texas where earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a six-week abortion ban to go into effect. The court refused an emergency request to block Texas Senate Bill 8, which essentially places a bounty on anyone who “aids or abets” the performance of an abortion.

By allowing the law to take effect, the Supreme Court signaled that it’s open season for Roe v. Wade — the landmark 1973 ruling that upheld the right to an abortion. On Monday, the court also announced that, in December, it will hear oral arguments on a Mississippi abortion ban.

Attacks on abortion rights are taking multiple forms in the Pennsylvania legislature — a fetal remains bill, a so-called “heartbeat” ban, and a ban on abortion in cases of a Down syndrome diagnosis, just to name a few.

The most recent abortion-related measure in Harrisburg — the “Pain Control for the Unborn” bill — is State Rep. Timothy R. Bonner’s proposal to require abortion providers to administer pain medication to a fetus in terminations done over 12 weeks.

Physicians’ groups have repeatedly stated that the issue of fetal pain in abortion is not a scientific or practical concern in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, when abortion is legal in Pennsylvania. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology summed up the issue succinctly: “A human fetus does not have the capacity to experience pain until after viability.”

Nevertheless, in 2017 Pennsylvania Republicans passed a 20-week abortion ban, purporting to defend “pain capable” fetuses. Gov. Tom Wolf, rightly, vetoed the bill and has vowed to veto any other anti-abortion legislation that Republicans send to his desk.

The pen of Gov. Wolf, whose term expires in January 2023, is the only thing that currently ensures that Pennsylvania won’t have a Texas-style abortion ban in place.

Pennsylvania needs a governor who would stand up for abortion rights — and that is also true of its senators.

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, enshrining a nationwide right to an abortion. Ahead of the House vote, 48 out of 50 Democratic U.S. senators expressed their support. Among the two holdouts was Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey.

Despite his personal stance on the issue, Casey’s been more likely to vote in ways that protect abortion than restrict it. His vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act should continue that pattern.

The time to develop infrastructure to defend abortion in Pennsylvania after Wolf’s tenure ends is now. Hopefully, Republicans will remember that they are allowed to vote in favor of ways that protect those who’ve already been born in the commonwealth — and not just use specious claims about fetal pain to control the bodies of pregnant people.

ONLINE: https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/editorials/abortion-pennsylvania-bans-fetal-pain-senator-bob-casey-20210920.html

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Sept. 21

The Wall Street Journal on Biden, the U.N. and Afghan women:

President Biden’s first speech as Commander in Chief to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday was full of the high-minded internationalist sentiment that defines his rhetoric. If only those words reflected the reality of the world he and America will have to navigate over the next four years.

“We’ve ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan,” Mr. Biden averred. “And as we close this period of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy; of using the power of our development aid to invest in new ways of lifting people around the world, of renewing and defending democracy.”

Mr. Biden told the assembled leaders what they wanted to hear: America will lash itself to the idealistic offices of the U.N., to the World Health Organization, to the Human Rights Council, and even to a New Global Health Threat Council. Aren’t pandemic threats the WHO’s job? Well, you can never have too many international bureaucracies.

Nowhere was Mr. Biden’s rhetoric more divorced from reality than on women and Afghanistan. In his speech he highlighted “the expectations to which we will hold the Taliban when it comes to respecting universal human rights. We all must advocate for women—the rights of women and girls to use their full talents to contribute economically, politically, and socially.”

Meanwhile in Kabul, the Associated Press reports: “The Taliban expanded their interim Cabinet by naming more ministers and deputies on Tuesday, but failed to appoint any women, doubling down on a hard-line course.”

On Sept. 8, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that “despite professing that a new government would be inclusive,” the Taliban’s list “consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates, and no women.”

This weekend the Taliban announced that girls would not be allowed to return to school. All signs so far in Kabul are that the Islamist group is reverting to the same medieval approach to girls and women it enforced the last time it controlled the country.

Perhaps the Administration thinks its well-meaning gender appeals can’t hurt. But the dissonance between the Administration’s words and its actions in abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban discredits its liberal humanitarian project. No single act by an American President has done more harm to more women than Mr. Biden’s willy-nilly withdrawal from Afghanistan. Noble but feckless exhortations at Turtle Bay can’t make up for that reality.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/joe-biden-the-u-n-and-afghan-women-taliban-united-nations-general-assembly-antony-blinken-11632263244

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Sept. 20

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on accountability in the Larry Nassar case:

It is hard to imagine anything more despicable than former Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse of hundreds of women and girls. That is, it’s hard to imagine anything worse until you hear the stories of Nassar’s victims who tried to speak up only to be ignored, doubted and otherwise mistreated by the authorities who should have helped them.

This appalling mistreatment was detailed recently in Senate hearings, during which some of the nation’s top gymnasts recounted how they not only were abused by Nassar but also then victimized further by investigators.

Their testimony was part of a Senate inquiry into the FBI’s botching of the Nassar investigation. Witnesses recounted that they knew of more women and girls who were molested by Nassar after the FBI had been made aware of allegations against him in 2015.

There is no excuse for this and even though FBI Director Christopher Wray has apologized and promised reforms, no one should consider the case closed.

Accountability is still lacking here after an inspector general’s report determined that the Indianapolis field office of the FBI improperly responded to reports about Nassar in 2015. The agency fired the supervisory agent who failed to investigate Nassar but so far has declined to prosecute him and another agent singled out in the inspector general’s report.

One of the gymnasts was asked after the hearing if she was reassured by the promises of Mr. Wray and others that reforms have been put in place to make sure this never happens again. She essentially said she was not reassured by anyone’s words. She wants to see action.

We all should demand as much. These are, sadly, not isolated cases. Nassar at Michigan State, Richard Strauss at Ohio State, Jerry Sandusky at Penn State, George Tyndall at USC — all got away with abusing victims for decades, not because authorities were never alerted to their crimes, but because authorities neglected their duty to stop the perpetrators.

The time for promises of doing better is over. The time to prove that reforms are working is here.

And, sadly, we know there certainly will be more opportunities. The only question is when and where will the next chance emerge for authorities to show they will stop failing victims of predators. We must step up and protect the vulnerable.

ONLINE: https://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/editorials/2021/09/21/div-class-libPageBodyLinebreak-Accountability-br-for-Nassar-case-br-div/stories/202109210011

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Sept. 21

The Miami Herald on COVID-19 booster shots and confusion:

By President Biden’s predictions, fully vaccinated American adults would be able to receive a third shot of the coronavirus vaccine starting Monday.

It looks like the president jumped the gun, setting an artificial deadline that has left many Americans confused and state health officials scrambling to manage expectations. As we learned throughout this pandemic, confusion and mixed messaging usually lead to distrust in public health authorities, which already is killing Americans who don’t trust vaccines and expert guidance.

The president’s plan is bogged down in criticism after a Food and Drug Administration advisory group recommended against booster shots for anyone over 16 on Friday. Citing a lack of safety data and doubts about the value of mass boosters, the panel of outside experts recommended a third shot only for people over 65, at higher risk of severe disease or at high risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

That still accounts for millions of Americans, but it’s a far cry from the president’s message on Aug. 18 that “every fully vaccinated” adult would be eligible for a shot eight months after they finished their two-dose regimen of a Pfizer vaccine. During his speech, he carefully added a caveat: that his plan was “pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration” but what Americans heard is: “Boosters for everyone!”

The advisory group’s recommendation is not binding, and the FDA can choose to disregard it when it makes a decision, which is expected this week. But this has been dubbed by media outlets as a “heavy blow” and a “blowback” to Biden’s COVID-19 efforts. It leaves the impression that the president who vowed to “follow the experts” made a grand, but premature, policy announcement motivated by the need to shift public opinion during the same week his first major crisis began to unfold in Afghanistan.

“You know, this will boost your immune response, will increase your protection from COVID-19, it’s the best way to protect ourselves from new variants that could arise,” Biden said. “(The) plan is for every, every adult to get a booster shot eight months after you got your second shot. Pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the CDC’s committee of outside experts will be ready to start this booster program during the week of Sept. 20.” That’s this week.

Biden didn’t necessarily fail to follow the experts. The data on boosters is evolving. Many experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, believe they are needed, and Israel demonstrated success with its campaign, which reportedly showed a 10-fold boost in protection. Disagreement among scientists is understandable given how quickly data in the middle of a pandemic can change, but Biden’s jumping ahead of an FDA decision makes his COVID response look chaotic.

Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already are go-to targets of anti-vaxxers. Unvaccinated Americans who can still be persuaded might feel less inclined to listen to authorities who appear they can’t reach a consensus on the efficacy and safety of booster shots.

We already saw how the CDC’s about-face on mask wearing has been weaponized by those who oppose mitigation measures to fight COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, the agency reversed its decision not to recommend facial coverings. Most recently, with the rise of the delta variant, it had to walk back its controversial recommendation that vaccinated people could stop wearing masks indoors. (The current recommendation is that vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas of high transmission.)

Of course, so much is beyond Biden’s and the federal government’s control: the conspiracy theories that are born on social media; the anti-vaccine rhetoric on Fox News, other far-right news outlets and Republican officials like Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, who are using their power to protect the so-called freedom of the unvaccinated and anti-maskers to infect the rest of us.

Since he entered the White House, Biden has been on the right side of this battle against the pandemic. But his response is under a microscope. How he communicates with Americans will be key, and any more missteps will come back to haunt him.

ONLINE: https://www.miamiherald.com/article254394179.html

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Sept. 22

The Dallas Morning News on Biden's response to Haitian border surge:

The scenes from the border are dire and heart-rending. More than 14,000 migrants, most of them Haitians, crowded under and near a bridge in a makeshift camp. Women gave birth among the squalor. Men and children waded through the Rio Grande to Mexico for food, clean water and diapers.

The wave of migrants, many fleeing poverty and political instability, overwhelmed authorities in the small community of Del Rio. Given the untenable situation and the realities of the pandemic, the Biden administration is right to use its authority to return migrants on charter flights.

The Department of Homeland Security said this weekend that it is working with “source and transit countries” to accept people who previously lived in those countries. It appears that many of the migrants who arrived in Del Rio had left homes in Brazil and Chile, where tens of thousands of Haitians resettled after a catastrophic earthquake in 2010.

It’s unclear how many Haitians at the U.S. border came from South America, but analysts tracking migration patterns point to data from the Panamanian government, which reported that more than 20,000 Haitians crossed its southern border this year, along with 4,365 Chilean and Brazilian children born to Haitian parents. Records show those numbers jumped dramatically in June and July. Misinformation and economic insecurity seem to be driving the surge.

Life for Haitians in Latin America has grown difficult. Some were given legal status by their host countries, making them ineligible for asylum here. Others settled illegally in Brazil, Chile and Central America or overstayed visas. Promising starts in Brazil and Chile soured when jobs dried up in Brazil and when Chile hardened its stance on immigrants. Meanwhile, Haiti’s instability has only deepened.

It’s undeniable that many Haitians face desperate circumstances, but economic insecurity is not grounds for asylum under U.S. law. Some migrants are also escaping racism, crime and gang violence, perhaps offering a stronger claim.

The Biden administration must demand that Brazil and Chile accept migrants who had resettled in those countries. It’s neither compassionate nor useful to return Haitians to a homeland they haven’t seen in years. The federal government must also look for regional solutions by pressuring governments along the migrant journey to control their own borders.

A lenient admissions policy at our border will prompt more migrants to make the dangerous journey north with their families. It’s easy for President Joe Biden’s critics on the right and left to denounce him when they are not the ones having to balance compassionate treatment of those coming here for relief with the need to manage the border and enforce laws.

We support a proposal by the Biden administration to shift the decision-making on some asylum claims from immigration judges to specially trained asylum officers, which would speed up the process for applicants. And we reiterate our calls to lawmakers to create more legal pathways for people who want to find work in the U.S. This would fill gaps in our labor market and give more families a chance at a better life.

ONLINE: https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorials/2021/09/22/biden-right-to-respond-to-haitian-border-surge/

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Sept. 19

The Guardian on the legacy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

One of the most emblematic political photographs of recent times was taken during a G7 summit in Canada in 2018. Leaning forward across a narrow table with hands outstretched, a grim-faced Angela Merkel confronts Donald Trump, who sits with his arms folded, refusing to meet her eye. Emmanuel Macron and the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, flank the German chancellor as she glowers down at the American president.

As Ms Merkel prepares to stand down as chancellor following next Sunday’s German election, after 16 years, the image sums up her recent role as a bulwark of liberal values in turbulent times. Amid resurgent nationalism and deep political polarisation across the west, the longest-serving and most influential European leader of the 21st century has been a vital standard bearer for a consensual, rules-based way of doing politics on the world stage. The political virtues she has embodied during her long reign – patience, tolerance, a lack of stridency and an aversion to showmanship – have come into their own, as culture wars proliferate on all sides. Her famous decision to keep Germany’s borders open to Syrian refugees in 2015 demonstrated a generosity of spirit and compassion to which all western democracies should aspire.

But beyond the upheavals of recent years, the overall legacy of Germany’s first female chancellor is more complex and enigmatic. Domestically, Merkelism became synonymous with an ecumenical and managerial politics of the centre ground. The global financial crash tempered Ms Merkel’s neoliberal economic instincts, and during 12 of her 16 years as chancellor she led a Christian Democrat-Social Democrat “grand coalition”. This hobbled her centre-left opponents’ attempts to present themselves as a distinct alternative and allowed her to reap the political rewards of successful policies such as a new minimum wage – which was an SPD condition for entering into coalition in 2013. Though Ms Merkel’s political convictions were difficult to pin down, a certain ambiguity, flexibility and calculated blandness became the secret of her success. Four victorious federal elections testified to the efficacy of an inherently cautious approach. But latterly her writ has not run in the poorer east, where the rightwing nationalists of the AfD have enjoyed significant success amid growing disillusionment.

The deliberately low-key style worked for many of the crises that came Ms Merkel’s way. But some challenges could have benefited from greater imagination and strategic ambition. In Europe, her consensus-building skills mostly have been an enormous asset, especially in ensuring fiscal solidarity between European Union member states during the Covid-19 pandemic. But the punitive austerity forced upon southern European states during the European debt crisis in the early 2010s – insisted upon by Ms Merkel and her then finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble – was deeply misguided and anti-democratic, and failed to address real flaws in the economic architecture of the eurozone. The backlash helped launch an era of political turbulence and populist insurgencies, and brought nationalism back into fashion.

More recently, Ms Merkel’s Green party opponents have been right to criticise the slow timetable for ending the country’s dependence on coal, and the lack of financial firepower to enable a fair green transition. In relation to China, whose appetite for German exports underpinned her economic model, she has pursued a policy of profitable accommodation that appears out of step with changing geopolitical times.

Nevertheless, Ms Merkel’s status as one of the most formidable, skilful and assured political leaders of modern times is beyond question. In the 21st century, no other leader comes close. From when she was working as a quantum physicist in the former East Germany, she has been an avid reader of history. During the course of a length of tenure bettered only by Otto von Bismarck, she perhaps had a chance to shape her own times more than she did. But her reassuringly stable and constructive presence in the politics of the west will be badly missed.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/19/the-guardian-view-on-angela-merkel-farewell-to-a-bulwark-of-stability

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