Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Miami Herald on Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis banning mask mandates:
Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho vowed to be guided by “science, by medical experts and public health experts” before deciding on a mask mandate for the next school year.
Good. That’s what you’d expect from the leader of Florida’s largest school district in a county with high transmission rates in a state where COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations reached record numbers over the past week.
However, Gov. DeSantis is forcing Carvalho and other school-district leaders to make these decisions based on the governor’s interpretation of public health, which means we’re all in trouble.
Friday, DeSantis signed an executive order that essentially bans school mask mandates, prohibiting districts from violating “parents’ right . . . to make health decisions for their minor children.”
School boards that dare to cross the governor can lose state funding. In other words, the governor is willing to knee-cap school districts in order to make his constituents deathly ill.
Just hours before DeSantis’ announcement, Carvalho told the Herald Editorial Board he would consult with the district’s medical task force, which will meet before school starts on Aug. 23. He will also look at what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended. Carvalho previously had said masks would be optional, but that was in late June, before Florida became the pandemic’s epicenter thanks to the highly transmissible delta variant.
An internal CDC document obtained by the Washington Post, based on still-unpublished data, states delta might lead to more serious illness and that it’s as contagious as chickenpox and more contagious than the Ebola virus or common colds. That prompted the federal agency to advise fully vaccinated people to go back to wearing masks indoors.
The CDC and the Academy of Pediatrics also reached a consensus: Schools should be open, and universal masking is recommended for children older than 2 “because a significant portion of the student population (under the age of 12) is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated,” the Academy of Pediatrics wrote in a July 9 advisory.
Carvalho said it’s “probably a fairly accurate prediction” that the task force would end up recommending a mask mandate. Among the experts advising Carvalho is U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, a Miami Palmetto Senior High graduate.
“We have been a district that’s well informed by science, by medical experts and public health experts and that will not change under my leadership,” Carvalho told the Editorial Board. “The CDC has opined, the American Academy of Pediatrics has opined and the (Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics) has opined as well. And, you know, they all agree in terms of protected and preventive measures.”
If only school districts could base their decisions on the needs of their communities, by looking at infection rates in their back yards instead of being forced to follow an irresponsible blanket state policy that applies anywhere from rural to urban counties.
“I’ve been very clear I believe that generalized pronouncements via executive order, or state statute, that basically don’t differentiate between conditions — which may vary significantly from South Florida, Central Florida, the Panhandle — that don’t take into account how different those conditions may be and the impacts they may have, may not necessarily be in the best interest of our communities,” Carvalho said.
DeSantis’ order is nothing more than a governor throwing a tantrum after the Broward County School Board approved a mask mandate last week. The tantrum worked: the School Board now says it will comply with his order and is considering mandating masks only for employees, parents and visitors.
It’s now up to districts to figure out how to please a governor who’s not afraid to use his executive powers to punish communities while protecting the health of students and staff.
“In light of the release of the Executive Order, we certainly hope to be able to craft protocols that ensure full funding of our children’s education, while simultaneously protecting their and their teachers’ health and well-being,” Carvalho said in a statement released Saturday.
Local control makes sense, right? Well, not in Florida.
DeSantis’ reaction to the pandemic has gone from vowing to protect the economy against shutdowns to making a mockery of a virus that’s killing Floridians (38,900 and counting). At least he says vaccines are effective, which is way more than what some Republicans will dare to profess.
At a recent speaking engagement in Utah, DeSantis made fun of mask wearing. He opened up his speech at the American Legislative Exchange Council by looking at a mostly unmasked crowd and saying:
“Did you not get the CDC’s memo?” our governor asked. “I don’t see you complying,” Politico reported.
His Friday announcement happened at a Cape Coral restaurant where — surprise!— most people were not wearing masks, the Sun Sentinel reported. That’s typical fashion for a governor who sells campaign drink koozies and T-shirts emblazoned with “How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?”
DeSantis doesn’t have to like masks and he can tour the country all he wants mocking them.
But playing off parents’ rights against the right of Floridians to live in good health will likely hurt the very people whom he’s working hard to accommodate — to say nothing of the rest of us.
Editor’s note: This editorial has been updated to add a statement from Superintendent Alberto Carvalho about Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on U.S. Rep. Cori Bush and the eviction ban:
Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of St. Louis has been sleeping out in front of the Capitol building since Friday night to protest the expiration of a federal eviction moratorium. She is generating a lot of headlines but not necessarily for the right reasons, mainly because she clearly misunderstands the complicated process required to restore the moratorium. As with many progressive ideals, righteous-sounding aspirations never seem to take into account political reality.
While simulating homelessness on the steps of the Capitol, Bush tweeted a demand that President Joe Biden “extend the eviction moratorium” and that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer force legislative action.
It’s as if she believes those three can wave their wands and magically make things better.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium, in effect since September 2020, was initially slated to expire in December. Lawmakers extended it through Jan. 31, after which the CDC extended it twice. A 5-4 Supreme Court majority ruled in June that the moratorium could continue through the end of July, but conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, siding with the majority, made clear he would block any additional extensions without “clear and specific congressional authorization.”
The Biden administration admitted its hands were tied and allowed the moratorium to lapse. He threw it to Congress, but the body adjourned on Friday without acting. Biden reportedly is looking at other ways to declare a new moratorium.
But even if House Democrats had voted to extend the moratorium, nothing seems to get past the evenly divided Senate without a lengthy fight. And that’s the political reality Bush so conveniently overlooks with such publicity stunts.
Asked how long she planned to keep protesting, Bush told reporters, “It ends when we win, it ends when we win. It ends when we don’t have to worry about this moratorium at this point. It ends when we get to say, ‘Okay, we got a little bit of time. Let’s go ahead and get to work to get a bill done so Congress can actually act.’ That’s when it ends for me.”
Having been homeless and forced to live in her car with her two children, Bush has a level of expertise on the crisis of eviction that no other member of Congress can match. By all means, she should use that experience to inform her colleagues in the same way that Iraq veterans like Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois use their experiences to persuade colleagues on military and veterans issues.
But Bush should understand that demands issued by tweet tend not to yield durable solutions, especially naïve ones insisting that the president defy the Supreme Court. While Bush deserves praise for the strength of her convictions, perhaps she would be more effective relying less on showmanship and more on persuasion to get Congress off the dime.
The Wall Street Journal on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and sexual harassment:
We’re about to find out if Democrats believe what they say about having no tolerance for sexual harassment. If they do, then they have little choice other than to move to impeach Andrew Cuomo as Governor of New York.
Mr. Cuomo asked Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the many accusations women have made against the Governor, and on Tuesday the outside lawyers the AG appointed issued their 165-page report.
The report recounts the facts as related by 11 women who worked for Mr. Cuomo or came to his attention as part of their work in government or private business. A couple of the accounts don’t seem to rise to the level of harassment. But many do, at least by the contemporary standards set and episodically enforced by the political and cultural left.
No corporate CEO, or even a junior executive, would survive in the job amid the trail of bullying, groping, leering, unwanted kissing, and suggestive come-ons recorded in the report by six lawyers at two law firms. In one instance, the report says, Mr. Cuomo noticed a female state trooper he fancied at a public event, had her transferred to his personal protective detail though she lacked the necessary minimum tenure, then “sexually harassed her on a number of occasions.”
This included caressing her stomach and back, kissing her on the cheek in the presence of another trooper, and on another occasion asking for a kiss. The reasonable conclusion is that Mr. Cuomo used his power as Governor to violate New York State Police rules to transfer a woman he figured he might be able to coax into a sexual relationship. The report concludes that “the Governor engaged in conduct constituting sexual harassment under federal and New York State law.” In other words, he violated the law.
Mr. Cuomo denies some of the allegations and explains others as the too affectionate style of an old-school man. He says the women misinterpreted what he meant as compliments.
That’s hard to believe when there are so many accusers and the report cites others who described an office culture that was “filled with fear and intimidation” and “contributed to the conditions that allowed the sexual harassment to occur and persist.” Everyone in Albany has known for years that Mr. Cuomo is an abusive, bullying figure. The report describes a man who acted as if he is politically invincible, which is what often happens in a one-party state with a largely one-party press.
The report has triggered calls from Democrats for Mr. Cuomo to resign, including by President Biden on Tuesday. But this is pro forma outrage. They know he’s staying in office unless forced out, and that he plans to run for a fourth four-year term next year. He has adopted the Donald Trump-Bill Clinton strategy of deny and stonewall until people forget.
If Democrats have the courage of their convictions, they’ll call on the Legislature to start impeachment proceedings. Make the case for why the verdict of voters should be short-circuited with specific charges and evidence. This would give Mr. Cuomo’s lawyers the chance to defend him against the allegations and to cross-examine his accusers. Anything less will mean giving Mr. Cuomo—and themselves—a pass.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on protecting Alaska's Tongass National Forest:
The blight of industrial-scale old-growth logging in Alaska is about to end. And it couldn’t have happened soon enough. And, in fact, it didn’t happen soon enough.
The Biden administration recently announced sweeping protections for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest that include the cessation of large-scale old-growth logging. Also, road development will be barred in 9 million acres of the 16.7 million-acre forest.
The protections for this forestland signals a shift for a region that has been felling massive trees for decades. The new rules constitute a reversal of one of former President Donald Trump’s biggest public land decisions.
The changes will halt a big source of future carbon emissions and will protect one of the world’s last fairly intact temperate rainforests. In fact, the Tongass is the only national forest where old-growth logging has been undertaken on an industrial scale.
The wood culled from this ancient forest has been used for everything from musical instruments to elegant shingles. The current scale-back of logging goes further than any previous president’s efforts.
It is a right move, and one that has been crafted with protections for Native Alaskans who operate on a small scale. They will be allowed to continue to harvest some old-growth trees. Also, the federal government will allocate $25 million to Alaska for community development, offsetting some of the financial benefit of the industrial logging.
Timber operations felled large swaths of the forest’s largest trees between the 1960s and the 1980s. But, about 5 million acres of prime old-growth habitat remain, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It deserves protection.
Scientists have identified logging in Tongass as a future driver of planetary warming because its ancient trees — many of which are at least three centuries old — absorb at least 8% of the carbon stored in the entire lower 48 states’ forests combined. Carbon stored in old-growth trees can stay out of the atmosphere for about 1,000 years if they remain uncut, while research has found about 65% of the carbon held by trees that are felled is released in the ensuing decades.
Many of Alaska’s state and local leaders have opposed logging restrictions for economic reasons. They’re not seeing the forest for the trees. Alaska Native leaders, environmentalists, commercial fishing operators, anglers and tourism companies see that protecting Alaska’s southeastern terrain is the smart way forward. The Alaskan wilderness is a resource that, once spent, will not be replaced — not in our lifetimes, not in a half-dozen lifetimes. The long view is the right view.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune on Belarusian sprinter’s dash to freedom:
Even without completing her 200-meter heat on Monday, Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya had the run of her life.
Or maybe even a run for her life.
First Tsimanouskaya rightly complained on Instagram about the last-minute decision to put her in the 4x400-meter relay, an event she had not trained for, after a teammate did not qualify because she hadn’t taken enough anti-doping tests. Then Belarusian Olympic officials tried to hustle Tsimanouskaya out of Tokyo, citing her “emotional and psychological condition.”
Via social media — a medium she deployed effectively in alerting the world to her harrowing plight — Tsimanouskaya said this was “a lie.” Instead, she said in a video that went viral that “I was put under pressure, and they are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent, so I am asking the (International Olympic Committee) to intervene.”
So the IOC, along with Japanese authorities, did just that at Tokyo’s airport. In fact the IOC had already said the Belarus Olympic Committee hadn’t shielded its athletes from political discrimination. And it refused to recognize Viktor Lukashenko, son of the nation’s repressive President Alexander Lukashenko, as head of the Belarus Olympic Committee.
The elder Lukashenko, often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” has cruelly ruled Belarus for 27 years. And it looks like he intends to be president for life, at least based on the 2020 presidential election, which Western experts and everyday Belarusians believe he stole.
The mass protests that understandably ensued were met with a brutal crackdown, with widespread arrests and reports of torture. The authoritarianism become even more brazen in May when Lukashenko ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to force a civilian aircraft to land in Minsk in order to arrest an opposition journalist, Raman Pratasevich. Even more recently, Lukashenko said of the country’s convulsion that “if it is necessary, we won’t hesitate” to ask Russian troops to intervene.
Reflecting the humanitarian solidarity the Olympics ideally represent, top politicians from Slovenia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Poland reached out with offers to provide safe harbor for Tsimanouskaya, who will head to Warsaw on a humanitarian visa. While her husband, who had already fled to Ukraine, will join her, Tsimanouskaya has expressed fears for her family still in Belarus.
One of the many attributes of the Games is that the Olympic flame can shine a light on global issues that are often obscured. Such was the case with Tsimanouskaya, who showed as much grit in fighting a dictatorship that she hoped to show on the track.
The Guardian on the Wu-Tang Clan’s genius — to make and appreciate art:
When Martin Shkreli was convicted of fraud in 2017, the authorities ordered him to give up his assets, which included a Picasso, a share-trading account and the only existing copy of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, a double album by the American hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan. This week an anonymous buyer purchased the record to clear the disgraced pharmaceutical executive’s remaining $2.2m debt to the US government and committed to Wu-Tang Clan’s stipulation that it not be released commercially until 2103.
The sale is a testament to both the artists and their art. The rap group – RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, U-God, Masta Killa and sometimes Cappadonna – emerged in the 1990s and challenged hip-hop’s aesthetic principles and its business model. With interests in martial arts, philosophy and mystical Islam, their wordplay set them apart. On their 1997 track Triumph, Inspectah Deck raps “I bomb atomically, Socrates’ philosophies and hypotheses / Can’t define how I be dropping these mockeries”.
Some recoiled from Wu-Tang Clan’s depictions of thuggery and sexually explicit language. For the rappers it was a soundtrack to their tough lives. In a 2019 documentary, group members revealed in disturbingly frank interviews how racism, poverty and violence blighted their youth. Art became a form of salvation. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was born of a realisation that music faced an existential threat. The band wrote in 2014 that their “industry is in crisis. The intrinsic value of music has been reduced to zero. Contemporary art is worth millions by virtue of its exclusivity … By offering (the album) as a commissioned commodity and allowing it to take a similar trajectory from creation to exhibition to sale ... we hope to inspire and intensify urgent debates about the future of music.”
Wu-Tang Clan had arrived at the same conclusion as the philosopher Walter Benjamin in the 1930s. He questioned whether the spread of photographs of fine art was valuable. In his landmark essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin zeroed in on the importance of the original, authentic work as being central to art’s aesthetic and financial value. Wu-Tang Clan, 80 years later, agreed.
Their stance for years looked brave, if not foolhardy, as streaming became the norm. Two things have made the rappers look prescient. The first is a growing backlash against streaming giants from musicians unhappy with tiny payouts. The second is that non-fungible tokens (though currently very environmentally unfriendly) are able to assign the monetary value of “unique” assets to digital entities such as music files. Wu-Tang Clan convenes more these days for business than music. That is a pity as their art, and appreciation of its worth, represented a witty, insightful path for hip-hop that feels largely forgotten.