Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

May 30

Biden is pushing police reform but, according the Washington Post, Congress, state and local leaders must join the fight

Acknowledging that “progress can be slow and frustrating,” President Biden last week signed a long-anticipated executive order aimed at reforming the criminal justice system — a full two years since a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. Even as he signed the order, Mr. Biden admitted it was insufficient. It directly affects only 100,000 federal law enforcement officers. Most policing occurs on the state and local level; only Congress or state and local leaders can overhaul law enforcement on a larger scale. The president’s action is an accomplishment, but it is just as much a reflection of how much more the nation must do.

This is not to say that Mr. Biden’s order is useless. It restores Obama administration restrictions on the transfer of military equipment to police departments, with exceptions for gear needed for “disaster-related emergencies; active shooter scenarios; hostage or search and rescue operations; and anti-terrorism efforts.” It mandates body cameras for all federal officers, restricts chokeholds and curtails no-knock warrants. It sets narrow limits on when force is permitted and requires officers to intervene to stop excessive force and to render medical aid.

Part of the point is to set high standards that local police departments might adopt voluntarily. But the order also envisions the Justice Department providing more oversight of local police through “pattern or practice” investigations, which the Trump administration had put on ice. And it requires more information to be reported on police misconduct and use of force, including the creation of a new database to which all federal agencies must contribute. Simply getting reliable numbers on policing in the United States has long been a challenge, in part because local departments have failed to report to an FBI use of force database. The order directs federal authorities to help local agencies report their numbers.

It is unclear how much extra participation this would yield, just as it is unknown whether local departments will adopt Mr. Biden’s new federal policing standards without more of a nudge. But the president’s powers are limited. Members of Congress struggled to agree on a bill that would have done much more, and talks collapsed last September.

“There’s a concern that the reckoning on race inspired two years ago is beginning to fade,” Mr. Biden said. His executive order cannot be the last word. Criminal justice reform is often attacked as anti-police. Done smartly, it helps good police officers, who get more trust from the communities they are sworn to protect and who are no longer harmed by association with bad cops who desecrate their profession. More important, reform can curb the extent to which Americans of color feel threatened by those who wield deadly policing powers. The only acceptable choice is for the nation’s leaders — from the local level to the federal one — to keep trying.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/05/29/biden-police-reform-options-limited/

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May 28

The New York Times says action must be taken to address mass shootings in “heartbroken” United States

The United States seems to be failing to protect its people by the week. With the gun massacre in East Buffalo followed by the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, many Americans have spent the past few days gripped by overwhelming incredulity and grief, exhaustion and fury over the loss of life. What can be done beyond living with heartbreak?

There is incredulity at the inaction of the police in Uvalde. Seventy-eight minutes elapsed after the gunman walked inside before police, believing “there were no kids at risk,” finally confronted him, according to Steven C. McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Meanwhile, 911 dis­patch­ers re­ceived several calls from inside the class­room, in­clud­ing repeated calls from a child beg­ging them to send the po­lice. By the end of his rampage, the gunman had killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.

Mr. McCraw acknowledged the multiple failures of judgment. In response to a question about whether the commander at the scene should offer an apology to the victims’ families, he said, “If I thought it would help, I would apologize.”

Police held back a group of horrified parents who gathered even as shots continued to ring out inside the school and begged officers to move in and try to rescue their children. At least one mother was put in handcuffs, only to spring over a fence and sprint into the school to scoop up her child when the opportunity presented itself. The police, she said, were “doing nothing.”

Those officers had been training for years for just such an attack. Yet when the moment came, all that preparation did nothing to stop a gunman wielding an assault rifle in a school full of children.

There is unspeakable grief over the deaths of children like Layla Salazar, who liked to make TikTok videos, wear denim jackets and sing “Sweet Child o’ Mine” on the way to school each morning.

“They took her away from us,” Layla’s grandfather Vincent Salazar told The Times. “How do you mend a broken heart from a family as close as we had?”

Irma Garcia, a teacher at Robb Elementary, liked classic rock. Her body was found with children still in her embrace, according to her nephew. A fourth grader who survived the attack said that Ms. Garcia and another teacher, Eva Mireles, had saved his and other students’ lives. “They were in front of my classmates to help,” he said. “To save them.”

There is also a profound sense of national exhaustion that comes when tragedy is layered upon tragedy. In Buffalo, three funerals were held on Friday for victims of the mass shooting that took place at a supermarket on May 14. Ten people were killed, and three others were wounded.

“It’s like Groundhog’s Day. We’ve seen this over and over again,” Mark Talley, the son of one of the victims, Geraldine Talley, said at a news conference on Thursday.

In Buffalo, a white gunman targeted a predominantly Black neighborhood with his AR-15-style assault rifle; he was an adherent of the racist conspiracy theory known as replacement theory, which posits that white Americans are being displaced by immigrants and people of color. Nearly half of Republicans told pollsters recently that they agree with the general thesis that a cabal of powerful people is encouraging immigrants to come here to sway politics.

The combination of paranoia and firearms has led to tragedy again and again. “Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” President Biden asked the nation on Tuesday.

The report of each gunshot in a mass killing echoes long after the next killing eclipses it. According to his family, Joe Garcia, Ms. Garcia’s husband, died on Thursday of a heart attack. Mr. Garcia, 50, had just gotten home from the memorial for his wife on Thursday morning when he collapsed.

It is entirely reasonable to ask how much more of this a nation can be expected to bear. The answer is infuriating: There have been 213 mass shootings in the United States in the first 21 weeks of 2022. An average of 321 Americans are shot every single day. And every day, there are roughly more than 50,000 gun sales recorded. Properly maintained, those guns will fire like new for decades.

There was some hope after the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, which left 20 children and six teachers dead, that America had finally reached the limit of tragedy it could withstand and that, perhaps, the gun lobby had reached the high-water mark of its power.

A decade later, neither of those holds true. On Friday, the former president Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson of North Carolina all spoke at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association in Houston, a few hours’ drive from Uvalde. There is no better manifestation of the gun lobby’s total capture of so much of the G.O.P.

States around the country have made halting but commendable progress in passing sensible gun safety measures — red flag laws, background checks and age of purchase requirements. They face stiff headwinds. A federal court this month struck down a California law that set the age limit for purchasing semiautomatic weapons at 21. But the legislature is now considering other promising bills that would limit the advertising of certain guns to children and allow Californians to sue gun makers. Anything that introduces friction into the system of gun acquisition is to the good.

In New York this week, a federal judge tossed out a challenge from gun groups to a law that allows civil lawsuits against companies that have endangered public safety. And Gov. Kathy Hochul called on the legislature to raise the age limit to purchase some assault weapons to 21. The shooter in Texas waited until his 18th birthday to buy a pair of assault weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

In Washington, D.C., there is talk that Republican and Democratic lawmakers might make a deal on some type of national red flag law, which would allow the police to take guns away from people judged to be an imminent danger to themselves or others.

Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, has been leading a bipartisan group of senators that is considering establishing a more comprehensive federal background check system, a reform supported by 88 percent of Americans.

We have seen these bipartisan efforts on gun safety measures come and go without results. Still, in the face of Republican intransigence, Democrats — Mr. Biden, in particular — should do whatever they can. Senator Murphy, who has led the charge for tougher gun regulations since Sandy Hook, put it well on the floor of the Senate this past week:

“What are we doing?” he asked his colleagues. “Why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority” he wondered, if the answer is to do nothing “as the slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives?”

It’s a question that speaks to the Senate directly and the entire system of American government more broadly. Yes, the country’s democratic system represents the diversity of views in this country on guns. But as currently structured, Congress is fundamentally unresponsive to the needs of its most vulnerable citizens and has been corrupted by powerful interest groups, allowing those groups to block even modest changes that the vast majority of Americans support.

We Americans all share this vast country and need to figure out how to make it better and keep one another alive and thriving. Right now, we’re failing at that primary responsibility. There are glimmers of hope, especially at the state level, that things are changing. But even there, progress is agonizingly slow and won’t be enough for the hundreds of Americans who will be shot today and tomorrow and every day until action is taken.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/28/opinion/school-shooting-texas-buffalo-gun.html

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May 30

The Wall Street Journal claims Biden's EPA might have dealt Alaska's Pebble Mine death knell

Politicians are demanding that the U.S. become more self-sufficient in crucial metals and minerals, but then they block domestic mining at every opportunity. Alaska’s Pebble Mine project is the latest to join the casualty list.

The Pebble site holds an estimated $300 billion to $500 billion in mineral resources and could be one of the world’s largest suppliers of copper and gold. Electric cars as well as wind and solar power require enormous amounts of copper. Investors have invested nearly $1 billion on exploration, engineering and studies to meet regulatory demands.

Yet last week the Biden Environmental Protection Agency issued a determination under the Clean Water Act that would ban disposal of mining waste within 308 square miles of the Pebble site, regardless of whether it poses an environmental risk. This could be a fatal blow to the mine.

The political assault on the project began when the Obama EPA pre-emptively vetoed it before the government even did an environmental review. The Trump EPA later let the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers do an environmental analysis, and in July 2020 the Corps found the mine would have “no measurable effect” on local fish populations. But then Donald Trump Jr. came out against the mine, and a few weeks after the November election the Corps rejected Pebble’s permit.

The Pebble developers challenged the Corps’ seemingly arbitrary decision and could prevail. But Alaska’s two Republican Senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, also oppose the Pebble Mine even as they oppose the EPA veto on legal principle, so this could be the end of the project.

Resource development can occur while protecting the environment. Yet the same climate activists working to stop fossil-fuel development are also trying to block mineral mining essential for renewable energy.

As one example, a recent Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report calls for a moratorium on most lithium brine extraction. Lithium is essential to make batteries for electric vehicles. The NRDC instead wants “longer-term solutions that reduce the need for new batteries,” such as “public policy tools to allow greater access to and use of public transit, biking, and walking.” Greens want to ban gas-fueled cars and block mining of minerals for electric cars.

Politicians will claim Pebble’s surrounding region is unique in its environmental value, but there is always another excuse to ban the next mine. In January the Interior Department revoked long-held federal leases for mining in Minnesota’s Duluth Complex, which accounts for 95% of America’s nickel, 88% of its cobalt and more than one-third of its copper.

Minerals and metals will still be mined, but in countries with far fewer environmental protections such as Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and China. The next time a politician bemoans America’s supply-chain vulnerability, ask which specific mining project he supports.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-canary-in-the-pebble-mine-alaska-minerals-metals-china-11653854128

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May 31

The Los Angeles Times says cruelty to children takes many form in the U.S.

Children in the United States today live in a country where their lives, well-being and future are of little concern to many of the adults with the power and responsibility to protect them.

It’s not just the acceptance of gun violence and the cowardly refusal to do anything to stop it. So many politicians in our country — mostly, but not all, Republicans — show cruel indifference to many other forces that hurt children, including poverty and the climate crisis.

Their actions show how little they care about the world they are leaving to future generations and how miserably they are failing at performing the most basic task of any guardian: protecting children from harm.

How so? It was the failure of adults in elected office to take an immediate and coordinated approach to contain the coronavirus, and the refusal of many so-called grown-ups to do something as simple as wear masks and get a vaccine, that led to wave after wave of infections that have killed 1 million people in the U.S. Though children were largely spared from the death toll, many lost parents, grandparents and other family members. Their education was a casualty too, with academic achievement and mental health suffering from remote learning and school closures that went on for far too long.

Those in power are doing practically nothing to slash air pollution that damages kids’ lungs and threatens to leave them and future generations with a ruined planet. Worse, some of those standing in the way in Congress are profiting off the burning of fossil fuels that threatens the very survival of our children. Scientists say it is now “more likely than not” that global average temperatures will rise more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels, the destructive rise in temperature that world leaders have pledged to work to prevent. It could happen by 2030, or by the time a toddler today turns 10.

The Supreme Court appears poised to take away abortion rights and the ability of people to decide when and whether to bring a baby into this troubling world. But once children are born, too many elected leaders seem to have no interest in their welfare. Here are just two recent examples: In January, after giving children a lifeline through an expanded child tax credit that sent families automatic monthly payments of as much as $300 per child, Congress let it expire and allowed millions of American children to slide back into poverty. And in another shameful and avoidable crisis, federal authorities failed to prevent a shortage in the supply of formula, the most basic sustenance babies need for survival.

Most painful of all, some politicians have worked to allow virtually unfettered access to guns, giving just about anyone the ability to kill our children at school, church or synagogue, at the supermarket, the mall or at home. Firearm-related deaths have been rising in the U.S. in recent years, and in 2020, guns overtook motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death among children and teenagers.

Many adults were still kids when a dozen students and a teacher were killed by gunfire at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. At the time, a mass shooting at school seemed unthinkable. Now this kind of tragedy is a staple of American life, an endless cycle of horror, grief and recurrence.

A decade ago a gunman killed 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. But the adults in Congress, who promised to take action, did nothing to prevent it from happening again. And it did, this time at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Once again, too many leaders’ response to another massacre has been tragically insufficient: to offer prayers and condolences. To call for safety drills. To blame mental illness. But they won’t even talk about limiting the guns that keep taking our children’s lives.

Parents should be able to tell their children that they will be safe and believe that there is a limit to the amount of violence that U.S. leaders will tolerate. But we can’t. And that’s the most helpless feeling of all.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-05-31/uvalde-violence-against-children

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May 25

The Guardian argues that gun violence — not just mass shootings — must be confronted in the US

To see the smiling faces of the children murdered at Robb elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, is unbearable. The killing of at least 19 pupils and two teachers is not, as it should be, unthinkable. It comes a decade after 20 children and six staff members were shot dead at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, and only 10 days after the racist murder of 10 mostly black shoppers at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

Gun sales have risen sharply since the pandemic began, although the U.S. already had more guns than citizens, far ahead of any other country. The murder rate has soared by nearly 30%. Firearms are the leading cause of death for America’s children, claiming the lives of more than 1,500 under-18s last year. Mass shootings account for at most 3% of gun violence deaths; many occur in ones or twos, and largely in disadvantaged neighborhoods of color. Unlike Tuesday’s tragedy, these victims go mostly unremarked, even when they are school age. Yet they, too, are irreplaceable to those who loved them.

Attempts to curb mass shootings, for example through banning assault weapons, are therefore both necessary and wholly inadequate. Yet lawmakers have struggled to enact and defend even these. Many believed that Sandy Hook had to prove a turning point. The passionate efforts of bereaved parents, vilified and attacked as they grieved, have led to a gunmaker being found liable for a mass shooting in the U.S. for the first time. But the most wide-reaching change resulting from school shootings has been that millions of children now go through drills – traumatizing those who will, thankfully, never encounter a shooter.

On Tuesday, Joe Biden asked – as so many have – why the U.S. is “willing to live with this carnage”. Support for tighter gun controls has dropped in recent years, though most still want them, and backing usually rises after mass shootings. Texan Republican leaders have prided themselves on expanding gun rights. Governor Greg Abbott, along with state senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, is due to speak at the NRA’s meeting in Houston this weekend. The Republican grip on the country’s institutions, skewing the executive, the legislature and the judiciary rightward, is another problem. A conservative, pro-gun supreme court will rule shortly on a New York law restricting who can carry guns in public, potentially imperiling restrictions elsewhere.

Local gun violence prevention programs work: the Biden administration is right to have dramatically increased funding, but more must be done. It is also essential that misogyny is addressed: most mass shooters have a history of expressing hatred of women and attacking female family members, and most women shot by their partners have previously been abused by them.

It is hard to feel any optimism when persistent campaigning by survivors and bereaved families has failed to shift the nation. The question is not merely what might save children like those at Uvalde, but whether anything will be done to save Americans more broadly if even these deaths do not force the U.S. to address gun violence seriously. These deaths were not unthinkable. Inaction, in the face of them, must be.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/may/25/the-guardian-view-on-us-gun-violence-another-desperate-day

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