Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Chicago Tribune on the aftershocks of the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict:
What a seismic difference a trial has made to public and media perceptions of Kyle Rittenhouse.
When he was charged at age 17 with shooting three men, two fatally, during racial unrest in Kenosha last year, various media accounts described him as a rifle-toting white supremacist who drove across the border to shoot Black Lives Matters protesters in the racial unrest that followed the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake.
Even then-presidential candidate Joe Biden included young Kyle among the “white supremacists and militia groups” that he wanted then-President Donald Trump to denounce.
But when Rittenhouse, now 18, faced his charges in court this month in a nice suit and tie, the “white supremacist” allegation died for lack of exposure. Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder barred photos and video evidence of Rittenhouse’s association with Proud Boys, a far-right, neo-fascist group associated with such political violence as the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
“This is not a political trial,” Schroeder said. “This is not going to be a political trial.”
Nice try, judge. But, of course, as much as politics should be kept away from influencing the jury inside the court, politics saturates the court of public opinion outside.
After the verdict, for example, Proud Boys openly celebrated the decision not only as a breakthrough for gun rights but also as evidence of growing opportunities for their violence-fueled messaging against the left.
Nevertheless, with his defense team’s help, a far more innocent, if naively reckless, image of Rittenhouse emerged in court: a selfless teenager and aspiring law-enforcement officer (or paramedic) who volunteered to help guard property, provide first aid and help defend the troubled city.
Which image is right in this case? That, theoretically, is why we have trials. Alas, the issues in this case are too politically wide, historically deep and emotionally volatile to be contained by a single judge in one Wisconsin court of law. While the nation watched the trial inside the courtroom, a larger, vastly more sweeping trial roiled outside, making villains or heroes out of the victims and witnesses involved in the proceedings.
Nonetheless, the hero image is dangerously inappropriate, except for those whose reverence for gun rights leaves an undernourished respect for public safety, including gun safety.
Fundamentally, Rittenhouse was a youngster who went off allegedly to support law and order in a misadventure that resulted in the only two deaths connected to the Kenosha unrest.
To gun groups, Trump loyalists, Blue Lives Matter activists and others on the right, Rittenhouse was a hero, brave enough to stand his ground against violent left-wing radicals, minorities and antifa sympathizers destroying private property and taking over America’s streets.
To Americans on the left, including gun control advocates, police reformers and many civil libertarians, Rittenhouse sparked the sort of nightmare that is inevitable in a country that has too many guns. Now it was up to the trial inside the Kenosha courtroom to apply the law to this disorder, particularly the critical question of what constitutes self-defense in a country that defines self-defense in its various states in very different ways.
Rittenhouse and his defense team argued that he was not the initial aggressor. He only shot the three men — whom Judge Bruce Schroeder decreed could be described as “rioters” but not “victims” — in self-defense, after they attacked him on the street in various ways. There was evidence of those attacks, given the presence of cameras capturing the encounters, and admissions of same even during the prosecutors’ own case. For this reason, and others, most lawyers familiar with the self-defense law in Wisconsin were not surprised by the verdict.
The prosecutors disagreed. They said Rittenhouse was asking for trouble when he recklessly inserted himself into a dangerously volatile situation, thus negating his claims.
“When the defendant provokes this incident, he loses the right to self-defense,” prosecutor Thomas Binger said in his unsuccessful closing argument. “You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create.”
Those not blinded by politics could see Binger had a logical, if maybe not a legal, point. But the jurors, after deliberating more than 26 hours, agreed with Team Rittenhouse. They acquitted him of all charges and reopened a long-standing hornet’s nest of arguments over vigilantism, gun rights and the right to self-defense that already divides the nation along political and racial lines.
The trial of George Zimmerman involved a Latino Florida man who was charged with killing Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager who Zimmerman had identified as suspicious and followed in his car and on foot. Martin knocked Zimmerman to the ground, they tussled for his gun, and Zimmerman fatally shot Martin.
The prosecution argued that Zimmerman was the initial aggressor, but the jury disagreed and Zimmerman was acquitted, a decision that ignited nationwide protests and inspired the Black Lives Matter movement.
Unlike Wisconsin, Florida is one of at least 30 states that have “Stand Your Ground” laws that allow people to defend themselves with a gun when threatened.
Wisconsin has its own version, which similarly relieves people of any duty to retreat, even if they can, if they believe they are threatened.
Illinois also has no “stand your ground” statute but instead recognizes the “Castle Doctrine” allowing people to defend themselves in their own home and to prevent a forcible felony, including burglary of unoccupied vehicles.
Although these laws vary from state to state, high violent crime rates have encouraged a nationwide trend in the direction of loosening more restrictions. Unfortunately the experience in states like Florida has shown an increase in shootings since that loosening, as critics expected.
Trials must follow the law and this jury’s considered verdict must be respected. But the Rittenhouse acquittal must not become an open invitation to other adventurous or fanatical gunmen and women to dangerously volunteer themselves as amateur militiamen or, as Rittenhouse’s prosecutors tagged him, “chaos tourists,” looking for violent trouble either until they find it — or become its cause.
The Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald on ‘purity’ and electoral politics:
Political purity is poisoning our nation.
From the dumb messaging of “defund the police” to fearmongering over critical race theory, extreme ideas and rhetoric from the left and right have become, for too many, litmus tests of loyalty. If one party is for it, everyone in that party must be for it; if the party is against it, everyone in the party must be against it. This rigid loyalty is obliterating the common ground where compromises achieve progress.
Blind loyalty, amplified by partisan and social media, casts differing voices as the enemy. Socialists! Fascists! Woke mob! Racists!
In just one of many examples, Rep. Don Bacon has been attacked within his party after he was among 13 House Republicans who dared vote for the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that passed Congress earlier this month.
Donald Trump — who repeatedly said he supported infrastructure spending but got nothing done — rolled out the RINO label for those House members and the 19 Senate Republicans who backed the bill in August. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia posted phone numbers of her 13 colleagues and called them “traitors.” Some conservative House Republicans urged that they be stripped of their committee assignments.
This is crass, cynical and destructive. Even as they work to conflate the infrastructure bill with the Democrats’ bigger social spending plan, these lawmakers know that billions will be flowing to their home states — Nebraska will get at least $3 billion — for roads, bridges, water systems, broadband and more. They know that spending is popular with their constituents — we won’t be surprised if during next year’s campaigning some of today’s critics tout the projects in their districts.
This is erosive to our system, which is built to require compromise and to hear opposing voices.
The purpose of all non-dictatorial political structures is to forge societies in which citizens agree to a set of rules under which they will live. Nobody gets their way all the time.
The Founders feared that political parties — “the most fatal disease” of popular governments, Alexander Hamilton called them — would be ruinous to the new nation.
“The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it,” George Washington said in his farewell address.
The Founders’ hope collapsed, with Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson falling into bitter political rivalry, sparking the two-party system.
Willard Sterne Randall, professor emeritus of history at Champlain College and biographer of six of the Founding Fathers, says Washington “had stayed on for a second term only to keep these two parties from warring with each other. He was afraid of what he called ‘disunion.’ That if the parties flourished, and they kept fighting each other, that the Union would break up.”
Here we are, more than 220 years on from Washington leaving office, and a University of Virginia poll this fall found that 52% of Trump voters and 41% of Biden voters would theoretically favor splitting the country along lines of political views.
But we are not enemies. We are all Americans, and with that good fortune and freedom comes robust disagreement.
We have a system to resolve those differences peacefully.
The nation had a win this month: Congress did something consequential that will help address urgent needs.
For this to happen more often, we need good people to be willing to take leadership roles without having to face threats and constant vilification. We need competing perspectives and then must extract solutions from those positions. Otherwise, we end up spinning our wheels in the muck of extremes and people become stuck in fear and anger.
Locally, we will see that in the response to this editorial. The pure left will say it’s terrible that The World-Herald seemed to say a nice thing about Bacon, who mostly holds fast to his party and, many Democrats contend, only pretends to be bipartisan. The pure right will say, disingenuously, that the bill isn’t really infrastructure and the RINOs paved the way for Congress to approve Biden’s massive social spending program.
And what will that accomplish? Precisely what the Founders feared. It must stop.
The San Antonio (Texas) Express-News on releasing all JFK assassination records:
Fifty-eight years ago today, on the last full day of his life, President John F. Kennedy arrived in San Antonio for the first leg of a trip designed to mend a rift between Texas’ conservative and liberal Democrats that threatened his 1964 re-election. His purpose in San Antonio was to dedicate the new Aerospace Medical Health Center at Brooks AFB.
More than 100,000 people lined the streets to cheer the president and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the motorcade traveling from the airport, down Broadway and through downtown en route to Brooks. They were in San Antonio for less than three hours, an unforgettable visit made more memorable by what happened the next day in Dallas.
Only Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001, rival the power of Nov. 22, 1963, to collectively evoke searing memories of grief and loss among Americans. Memories of a motorcade moving slowly through the streets of Dallas until the gunshots, the stunned confusion, the blaring sirens and the race to Parkland Hospital where the 35th president of the United States was declared dead.
The 1960s were visited by a plague of assassins’ bullets that destroyed a harvest of young and talented leadership like Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. All were horrific, but it’s what happened in Dallas that’s been called the crime of the century because of the office it was inflicted on and the man who held that office.
The Kennedys brought glamour, youth and young children to the White House. Until Barack Obama, no American president looked less like his predecessors than Kennedy. At his inauguration, the contrast between him and the older men on the platform — including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chief Justice Earl Warren, poet Robert Frost, even his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson — was striking.
Young, vigorous and standing in the subfreezing weather with no overcoat, he embodied the new generation of which he would speak. It is one of the images of him — forever young — forever frozen in the public mind.
No other president had looked like Kennedy, and no other president died the way he did, murdered at 46, in public, riding in a car on an American street.
His assassination is one of the all-time great “Who dunnits?” It’s either the greatest unsolved mystery of our time or the greatest mystery solved whose conclusion — a single gunman was responsible — is widely disbelieved. Despite the Warren Commission’s report that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, polls have consistently shown most Americans believe the president was the victim of a conspiracy.
That’s why it’s important that all government files related to the assassination be released and opened to the public. And that’s why it’s disappointing that the Biden administration is following the footsteps of the previous administration in delaying their release.
As the Washington Post reported, under the 1992 John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, all assassination records were supposed to be disclosed in October 2017. President Donald Trump postponed their release to Oct. 26, 2021. But an Oct. 22 memo signed by President Joe Biden says some documents will be released Dec. 15 while the bulk won’t be released until late 2022.
The administration attributes the delay to the pandemic without specifying how, saying more time is needed to make sure no harm is done to the military, law enforcement, intelligence or the conduct of foreign affairs. But the memo conceded the cases requiring continued protection are rare.
It’s been 58 years and most of those involved are dead. There are no legitimate reasons for blocking release of these records, whatever they reveal. The American government has an obligation to be transparent with the American people.
All of us deserve to know what came before and came after the events of Nov. 22, 1963. The president’s life was taken, but that motorcade continues its journey through history, all of us among its wounded passengers.
The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch on ‘anti-riot’ bill and fragility of free speech:
There are times in most self-reflective people’s lives when they look back and acknowledge that they overreacted to something.
In that vein, we ask the Ohio House and Senate to reflect on House Bill 109 and realize that it is an overreaction and unnecessary, and to reject it.
Virtually every “problem” this bill was supposedly written to solve is already addressed in Ohio law – with specificity and without the vague and broad language that could ensnare innocent protesters.
As reporter Anna Staver wrote in a recent news story, the sweeping bill would increase the charges, penalties and civil lawsuits that could be filed against protestors in cities and towns across Ohio.
House Republicans passed House Bill 109 out of committee on Nov. 10, over Democrats’ objections that its vague language violates the First Amendment.
If the intent of the draconian proposal isn’t an attempt to intimidate people and scare them away from peaceful protests, the result, if this bill is approved, certainly would be a chilling effect on anyone who might consider using their constitutional right to public expression of their grievances.
This is especially true for marginalized people with little means – people who can’t afford lobbyists to carry their messages to lawmakers or lawyers to represent them if they run afoul of a bad law.
The threat of months in jail for blocking an intersection, or the possibility of a big civil judgment in a lawsuit filed by a police officer who could claim you made a “false complaint” under this bill, would give pause to anyone thinking about joining a protest.
It could effectively silence those with legitimate grievances and few other options for making them known.
Make no mistake: We condemn rioting and violence. Those who harm other people, overturn cars and smash windows – whether at businesses, the Ohio Statehouse or the U.S. Capitol – should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
But the majority of protests in the state capital – of which there are many each year – are peaceful. And temporarily blocking an intersection is not rioting.
Supporters say the “Ohio Law and Order Act” would protect police, peaceful protestors and free speech. But opponents say the penalties are far too harsh because, for example, five people blocking an intersection could meet Ohio’s definition of a riot under this bill.
Not throwing rocks or bottles. Just temporarily blocking an intersection while marching from, say, City Hall to the Statehouse.
That happened many days in Columbus and other cities across Ohio following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, and after a Columbus police officer killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in April 2021. The vast majority of the protests that temporarily blocked intersections were peaceful.
They might have been disruptive, and it was technically illegal to block intersections, but those actions were not what any reasonable person would consider to be felony-level crimes.
And yet, under House Bill 109, protesters convicted of certain disorderly conduct crimes, such as blocking a street, could spend 180 days in jail if prosecutors labeled the event in question a riot or illegal protest.
The bill also would create a new fifth-degree felony called “riot assault,” which could become a more serious fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, if the victim is a police officer.
Assaulting a police officer is already a crime, up to and including a first-degree felony depending on the severity of the assault.
House Bill 109 also would expand Ohio’s corrupt activities law to include people or organizations who knowingly provided “material support or resources” to rioters.
When it comes to civil legal action, the bill would allow police officers who are injured during such events to file lawsuits against individuals as well as “any organization that provided material support or resources to the responsible party.”
Officers also could sue someone for filing a false complaint related to such incidents.
Those two points are alarming. A church that lends its bus to protesters, or feeds them, could be charged because it provided “material support.” And who decides what constitutes a “false complaint,” which is undefined in the bill, in a he-said, she-said argument between an officer in uniform and a protester?
Protestors might refuse to file legitimate complaints because they are worried officers will sue them, said Gary Daniels, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.
There also is a fear that prosecutors would apply the riot label to certain protests – such as Black Lives Matter and gay rights organizations – but not others.
A similar bill passed in Florida was recently blocked by a federal judge, but other laws in states like Arkansas and Iowa have gone into effect.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee found that Florida’s “anti-riot” law was “vague and overbroad,” and amounted to an assault on First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly, as well as the Constitution’s due process protections, according to an Associated Press report.
People engaged in peaceful protest or innocently in the same area when a demonstration turned violent could have faced criminal charges and stiff penalties under the law, the judge said.
A key issue is defining what the word “riot” means in the statute. Walker noted that past Florida laws sought to prevent demonstrations that could threaten segregationist Jim Crow-era practices.
“If this court does not enjoin the statute’s enforcement, the lawless actions of a few rogue individuals could effectively criminalize the protected speech of hundreds, if not thousands, of law-abiding Floridians,” Walker wrote.
“It unfortunately takes only a handful of bad actors to transform a peaceful protest into a violent public disturbance,” the judge added.
In Ohio, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association both testified in support of the House Bill 109.
“Peaceful protest deserves to be protected. Riots and vandalism do not,” Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association Director Lou Tobin said.
Blocking a street may seem like an annoyance, Tobin added, but it can delay life-saving care by slowing down ambulances.
As for making first responders a protected class, Tobin thinks that’s appropriate because Ohio is asking these people to put themselves in harm’s way in the name of public safety.
“Our first responders have an incredibly difficult job as it is,” Tobin said. “They should not on top of that be subjected to harassment and intimidation because of what they do.”
We agree that the job is challenging and dangerous, but this bill is less about protecting first responders and more about intimidation.
It is clearly an effort to silence people with legitimate grievances, and again, we ask the House and Senate to reflect on this over-reaction and reject the bill.
The Wall Street Journal on Ohio opioid verdict and product liability law:
Thousands of local governments and plaintiff attorneys are seeking to extort companies in the drug supply chain by holding them liable for the nation’s opioid epidemic. Now armed with a jury verdict, a federal judge is holding Walgreens, Walmart and CVS hostage to a settlement.
That sums up the news on Tuesday that a jury in a bellwether case in Ohio has found the three large pharmacy chains liable for creating a public nuisance by filling opioid prescriptions. The companies say they plan to appeal, but they will have to wait until federal Judge Dan Aaron Polster, who presides over the consolidated cases, issues a separate ruling on damages.
Our sources say Judge Polster separated the verdict from the pecuniary punishment to squeeze the companies to settle this case and thousands of others that have yet to go to trial. The two Ohio counties that are the leading plaintiffs have each estimated their costs from the opioid epidemic at about $1 billion. Potential liability for claims by all the plaintiffs could be many times greater.
Since the multi-district litigation landed in his court, Judge Polster has pushed the defendants to pay up. When the pharmacies refused, he scheduled a trial in a lawsuit involving the two Ohio counties. He then stacked the deck against the pharmacies with procedural motions and declined to call a mistrial after a juror shared information biased against the defendants with fellow jurors. (“A Case of Opioid Tort Abuse,” Nov. 9).
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has criticized the judge for violating basic judicial procedure, and the pharmacies could cite his missteps in an appeal as grounds for reversal.
The jury verdict also distorts product liability and public-nuisance law since opioids are legal products and pharmacies had no control over how they were used by customers. If the verdict stands, or the companies settle, the precedent could lead to similar nuisance suits across much of the U.S. economy.
Oklahoma’s Supreme Court earlier this month reversed a $465 million judgment against Johnson & Johnson that was also based on the charge that the drugmaker created a public nuisance by marketing opioids. A state judge in Orange County, Calif., also recently tossed public nuisance lawsuits by counties against opioid manufacturers.
Judge Polster knows that a settlement would pre-empt review by the Sixth Circuit and the chance of a reversal. The companies may be tempted to cut their losses. But as Johnson & Johnson showed in Oklahoma, it sometimes pays not to surrender.
The Guardian on Afghanistan and hunger, a fast-developing disaster:
The global attention has dissipated, but the crisis is intensifying. The bleak year that Afghans have endured is turning to a still bleaker winter. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) predicts that almost 23 million people – more than half the population – will face crisis or emergency levels of acute food insecurity before spring: the highest rate ever recorded. On Thursday, the UN envoy to the country, Deborah Lyons, warned that it is on the brink of catastrophe.
This year, the WFP’s operations in Afghanistan are expected to cost $510m; it predicts that it will need almost five times that amount in 2022. The economy shrank by 40% after the Taliban seized power again in August, on top of the devastation wrought by long-running conflict, the pandemic and a severe drought. An economy heavily dependent on aid and other foreign cash has had the tap turned off. The population is larger than before, making subsistence farming tougher; migration is harder. People are running out of things to sell. Food and fuel prices have reportedly soared by up to 75%. Women have been especially hard-hit.
The problem is how to prevent the Afghan people from starving while minimising benefits to a brutal and repressive leadership who have never met the needs of those they rule. No one wishes to strengthen them, nor to embolden similar movements in the region. Yet the current alternative to Taliban rule is not a return to the status quo ante but a collapse that would also offer new opportunities to Islamic State, with repercussions far beyond Afghanistan. It is already resurgent; attacks attributed to the group have reportedly risen from 60 in 2020 to 334 this year.
The first priority now must be for countries – particularly the US and its allies – to actually pay the UN the money they have promised. Humanitarian aid has resumed, with the US issuing licences to ease provision without removing sanctions. But with the implosion of the banking system, organisations are struggling to pay staff on the ground. Some argue that it is time to unfreeze the $9bn in frozen foreign exchange reserves and resume access to International Monetary Fund resources. But even putting all ethical qualms aside, that would only partially address the banking crisis; and it is far from clear that the unqualified officials chosen by the Taliban are capable of managing those funds. One option might be to establish a new humanitarian financial corridor, possibly through a private central bank.
Emergency aid is not enough. Development funding is needed to get the economy off its knees. In some areas, there may be room for manoeuvre. Funders cannot support schools when girls are prevented from attending. But they could resume paying teachers in provinces where older girls are able to study. Meanwhile, those most at risk in Afghanistan must be helped to begin new lives elsewhere. Western countries that encouraged women to work in sectors such as policing are being disgracefully slow to offer them a home now their professions have put them at risk.
Shamefully, the west is less likely to be stirred to action by the desperation of Afghans than by the fear that it may drive them to migrate and by domestic security concerns. When Ms Lyons warned of the dangers now facing Afghanistan, she also observed that its people feel abandoned. It is hard to disagree with their assessment.