Editorial Roundup: United States
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post says ‘Stand your ground’ doesn’t save lives. It leads to needless killing.
The disagreements start over the most mundane of matters. An argument over someone texting in a movie theater; a customer at the checkout in a grocery store being jostled; a driver getting cut off by another car. But then someone pulls a gun and what could have — should have — been resolved with a little calm, and some plain common sense, ends in needless tragedy. Fueling the spiraling escalation of violence that has made the United States a global outlier in gun violence are laws that give license to people to shoot first.
“Stand your ground” laws, which allow individuals to use deadly force in public as a first resort rather than a last, came into vogue in the United States in the early 2000s and, according to a new study, are linked to a rise in gun homicides. Florida was a pioneer, enacting in 2005 a measure that essentially eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force if they “reasonably believe´´ their lives are threatened. Stand-your-ground was a factor in George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the 2012 fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. It was cited as a reason the original prosecutor in the Ahmaud Arbery case initially decided not to bring charges against the three men ultimately convicted of fatally shooting Arbery. And it loomed over the trial of a Florida man recently acquitted for shooting to death a moviegoer with whom he had quarreled about cellphone use.
Proponents of stand-your-ground laws, put in place in some 20 states that followed Florida’s lead, say the laws enhance public safety by reducing barriers that prevent people from exercising their right to self-defense. They also claim that such laws deter crime. But a study published last week in JAMA Network Open, a peer-reviewed medical journal, found stand-your-ground laws are associated with an 11 percent increase in monthly homicide rates. That monthly increase alone, the authors wrote, is greater than total rates of homicides in most Northern and Western European countries.
The authors of the study analyzed 23 states that enacted stand-your-ground laws between 2000 and 2016, and 18 states that did not have the laws during the full study period, from 1999 to 2017. Their analysis found that stand-your-ground laws could be linked to 700 additional homicides each year. Most striking was the rise in Southern states — Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana — that were early adopters of the laws. The study’s findings also echo a 2020 review by the Rand Corp. about strong evidence linking stand-your-ground laws with an increase in firearm homicide rates.
No doubt other factors have contributed to an increase in gun violence, but laws that encourage people to grab a gun and shoot when they think they are being threatened — rather than counting to 10, walking away, calling 911 — are not an effective means of self-protection. They should be recognized as what they are: a prelude to tragedy.
The New York Times says that Ketanji Brown Jackson Won’t Be Able to Change a Radical Court. Yet.
It took 233 years, but the United States Supreme Court is finally on the cusp of getting its first Black female justice.
President Biden’s nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, a federal appeals court judge who would replace the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, is a follow-through on Mr. Biden’s campaign promise to open up the court’s membership in a way none of his predecessors did.
“For too long, our government, our courts haven’t looked like America,” Mr. Biden said in announcing Judge Jackson’s nomination. “I believe it is time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation.”
Judge Jackson’s nomination is cause for celebration. It is a well-deserved acknowledgment of her years of experience and her qualifications for the job, not to mention a symbol of American progress and a redefinition of who is entrusted with the awesome power to decide the meaning of our Constitution and laws.
It is heartening that the composition of the Supreme Court has begun to reflect the diversity of the nation. White men make up less than one-third of the U.S. population but have accounted for 94% of Supreme Court justices.
Yet while the court will now look a little more like the nation, the ideology of its current six-member majority is far to the right of the average American. And the willingness of those justices in the majority to overturn both federal laws and the court’s own precedents — on everything from abortion rights to voting rights to affirmative action to labor unions and more — suggests that the court’s public standing, already at record low levels, will continue to decline.
If she is confirmed, Judge Jackson will bring vital, underrepresented experiences and intellectual firepower to the high court.
Born in the nation’s capital and raised in Florida, she is a graduate of both Harvard University and its law school. After clerking for the justice she is now poised to replace, she worked at a private law firm and then as a federal public defender. That role is central to the nation’s justice system, and yet no previous justice has been a public defender. Combined with Judge Jackson’s work on the United States Sentencing Commission, that promises to bring informed and nuanced insights to the complex criminal justice policy issues that led to the nation’s four-decade prison boom. She has a decade’s worth of judicial experience to draw on as well: first as a trial judge on the district court in Washington, D.C. — a post for which the Senate unanimously confirmed her — and then on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, to which Mr. Biden appointed her last year.
In short, she is as prepared as any of the sitting justices, and perhaps more than some, to assume the role of a final arbiter of the nation’s most pressing legal disputes.
The current court — whose conservative supermajority was manufactured over the past several years in a series of power grabs by Senator Mitch McConnell and his Republican caucus — is now the most right-wing it has been in a century, even as the country as a whole has moved left. Judge Jackson can’t arrest that hard right turn alone, but when she finds herself in dissent, she can speak out loud and clear, not only to her fellow justices but also to the American people, in order to help them understand how far out of sync the court is with the country. Dissents don’t make law, but they can point the way to a better future, as Justice John Marshall Harlan did with his powerful solo dissent from one of the court’s most egregious rulings, Plessy v. Ferguson, in 1896.
More than a century later, the Supreme Court finds itself in a precarious position; a record low 40% of Americans approve of its work, according to Gallup. Justice Breyer has long been sensitive to the risks of a politicized court, and he went to great lengths to persuade the public not to think about the Supreme Court in a partisan way. He insisted that all justices leave their politics at the door when they put on their robes.
True judicial independence may be hard to achieve, but it is vital. As Alexander Hamilton pointed out, the courts have the power of neither the sword nor the purse. Their ability to issue life-altering rulings derives entirely from the public’s acceptance of their legitimacy. That acceptance depends, in turn, on the sense that the courts are doing their best to remain fair and impartial, despite the swirl of politics and partisanship around them. The moment people stop believing this, the courts’ legitimacy is destroyed.
The collapse in confidence in the high court has grave implications for American government and society. Yet this is the only Supreme Court we have. What can be done to begin to repair its standing?
The first step is personnel: appointing justices who will interpret the Constitution as a document that can adapt to changing circumstances and that embodies the nation’s highest and most enduring ideals. For now, justices like that are in the minority. But the power of dissent is real and can lay the groundwork for future courts and the American people.
One reform that could be achieved in the near future would be to apply to the justices the same code of ethical conduct that applies to all lower federal court judges, prohibiting the sorts of political activities that can create the appearance of bias. Recent revelations about the political activism of Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife put that issue front and center. But it is relatively small potatoes in the larger picture of the court’s role in American life and politics.
The reforms that would have a far more meaningful impact are the hard ones. The most obvious to consider is term limits, which have enjoyed consistent support from both conservatives and liberals. Steven Calabresi, a co-founder of the Federalist Society, wrote in The Times that lifetime appointments created a “self-perpetuating oligarchy” and that carefully timed retirements only contributed to the public perception of justices as political actors. The strongest proposal involves staggered 18-year terms for justices, giving every president at least two and as many as four appointments. There are ways to do this without amending the Constitution, but it would not be easy.
Even if term limits could be set tomorrow, they would not by themselves reduce the court’s outsize power in American life. This power has only grown as Congress has ceded its lawmaking authority, funneling the most important debates and decisions about a democracy of more than 330 million people to a panel of nine justices.
There is a deeper lesson here, which is that reforming the Supreme Court is necessary but it is also insufficient. No matter who sits on the bench, the most important and lasting progress toward a fairer and more equal nation will be won outside the court, not within it.
The Wall Streets Journal thinks President Biden missed the moment with State of the Union.
President Biden is no Olaf Scholz. The new Chancellor upended decades of center-left German defense and energy policy this week after Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, and Mr. Biden had a similar opportunity in his State of the Union address Tuesday. He missed the moment. The President remained on the same policy course of his first year, albeit dressed up in new anti-inflation packaging.
More defense spending to meet the threats from autocrats? No. A new appreciation for the contribution of fossil fuels to American and European security? Not a word. A note that government spending contributed to the highest inflation in 40 years? Nope. A word of praise for the private Pharma innovation that developed Covid therapies and vaccines? He proposed government price controls instead.
Mr. Biden did offer stirring support for Ukraine and its fight for freedom, which received bipartisan applause. His Administration deserves credit for helping to rally Europe and other nations to impose sanctions and provide more military aid. He was properly condemning of Mr. Putin.
But his self-congratulation ignored the failure to deter the Russian autocrat. “We were ready” if Mr. Putin invaded, Mr. Biden said. But if the U.S. had been ready, Mr. Putin wouldn’t have invaded. The Russian invaded because he thought the West would do little. And Mr. Putin finds himself in a struggle now because of the bravery of 41 million Ukrainians, not the strength of Europe or the United States.
What we also didn’t hear was a vow that Russia will not be allowed to conquer and hold Ukraine. There was no warning to Mr. Putin not to launch missiles into residential neighborhoods or surround and starve cities into submission like a medieval siege. This was not Harry Truman at the dawn of the Cold War calling the world to meet a new danger.
On his domestic agenda, Mr. Biden acknowledged inflation, as he had to given the polls. But he blamed rising prices on the pandemic and greedy businesses, and his solutions are to unleash prosecutors and antitrust cops, and to spend even more money on social welfare and entitlements. His most other-worldly line was that his program would “cut energy costs for families an average of $500 a year by combating climate change.”
The entire point of his climate agenda is to raise the price of energy for Americans by reducing the supply and increasing the cost of coal, oil and natural gas. His regulators are working to do that every day in every way. It was as if the horror of the last week, which exposed the folly of Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas, had never happened. The climate left still has a choke hold on this Presidency.
An anxious world is looking for American leadership in a dangerous new era. Instead Mr. Biden offered a rehash of his first-year domestic agenda that has brought him to his low political ebb. It’s dispiriting that a White House facing so many daunting challenges could come up with so little. The President really does need to fire some people and get better advice.
The Los Angeles Times wonders what it will take for the world to act on the climate catastrophe
A new United Nations report blares dire warnings of the escalating effects of climate change: Our planet is no longer on the brink of catastrophe; the catastrophe is well underway. How we respond now will determine how horrific things get for nature and humanity.
In a sweeping assessment released Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientists from across the globe found that climate change is causing “dangerous and widespread disruption” to billions of people and the natural world. These effects are coming faster and harder than expected, outpacing our efforts and ability to adapt.
The burning of fossil fuels and other human activity have already warmed Earth by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with preindustrial levels. Such activity has worsened wildfires, droughts, air pollution and heat waves; caused animals to go extinct and trees to die en masse; swallowed up coastal habitat; reduced crop yields; increased hunger and shrunk glaciers and other critical water supplies. Any further delay to act “will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all,” a 35-page summary of the panel’s findings concludes.
These hard truths should jolt world leaders into immediate action to end the use of fossil fuels and to pour money into protecting communities and ecosystems from the impacts we have already unleashed and those that are yet to come. But, tragically, that seems unlikely. Against a backdrop of global instability and continuing pandemic, this report’s horrific implications will soon fade from the headlines, even as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine clearly illustrates the risks of dependence on Russian oil and gas. It is, after all, only the latest of many alarming reports from scientists over the decades that have largely gone unheeded.
Yet we cannot succumb to defeatism when the viability of our planet and our very lives are at stake. As the IPCC report makes clear, if humans don’t quickly reduce fossil fuel emissions, the result will be even more global conflict and upheaval, hardship and death. While no one on the planet will be untouched, the suffering from climate change will be deeply unequal, borne overwhelmingly by the low-income countries and people who are least responsible for causing it.
U.N. secretary-general António Guterres called the IPCC report “a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” adding that “this abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.”
This is indeed our fault and our responsibility. The United States is the world’s biggest polluter historically, having emitted more cumulative planet-warming emissions than any other nation. Even in California, efforts to reduce climate-warming pollution are not on track to meet state targets, which themselves are insufficient and outdated, having fallen behind those of other states and countries.
We can still avert the worst consequences of the overheating of our planet — mass extinction and catastrophically severe droughts, floods, heat waves and sea-level rise — if we cut emissions in half by 2030. But the U.S. and other top carbon emitters must lead the world in moving from incremental actions to a wholesale transformation of our energy system and aggressive investment in reducing the risks to cities, coastlines and sources of food and water.
Under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, virtually every nation on Earth has pledged to keep global warming “well below” 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit and aim to limit it to 2.7 degrees. Yet we are closing in on the 2.7-degree threshold. Even after a flurry of pledges made by world leaders at last fall’s climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the Earth remains on track to warm by about 4.5 degrees by the end of the century.
One way or another, we are headed for a massive transformation of society. We can choose to either usher it in through a swift embrace of clean energy or to ignore the warnings and accept a much more painful future in which our options will be limited by inaction and the devastating planetary change we have caused.
A U.N. summit will convene this fall in Egypt to scale up actions to fight climate change. Global leaders have already squandered decades of warnings from climate scientists and must not be allowed to waste another year dithering and passing off insufficient and incremental pledges as progress. We should all be incredibly angry with their complacency in the face of calamity.
Guterres said Monday that “delay means death,” and “now is the time to turn rage into action.”
Will anybody listen this time?
China Daily says Tsai Ing-wen, Biden send wrong signal, wrong time
After barking for weeks since the eruption of Russia-Ukraine tensions, Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen has finally received her long-awaited treats from across the Pacific.
The Joe Biden administration sent a high-level delegation of former officials on Asia affairs and security from both parties, led by Michael Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the island on Tuesday to reaffirm to the Tsai administration the US’ “rock solid” commitment to Taiwan’s security, and to spur her to further upgrade the island’s defense system.
The last time a US delegation visited the island as a “personal signal” by Biden was on April 13 last year. A day later, his administration announced its decision to pull US forces out of Afghanistan. The Biden administration announced a $750 million arms deal with the island three months later.
A second deal of $100 million was approved on Feb 7, with the US administration citing the Ukraine crisis as an impetus. Nobody will be surprised if the Biden administration announces its approval of a third arms sales after the visit.
The reason why Tsai is trying to take advantage of the Ukraine crisis to arouse the international community’s “empathy” with the island is that she wants to blur the line on the Taiwan question. But the international community is well aware that it is an internal affair of China.
Although the island’s defense budget has risen from $11 billion when Tsai took her post in 2016 to $17 billion this year, much of which has found its way into the pockets of the US military complex, it has only served to fuel Tsai’s anxiety.
Given that former secretary of state Mike Pompeo is visiting the island from Wednesday to Saturday hard on the heels of Biden’s delegation, which is visiting from Tuesday to Wednesday, their reassuring words and salesmanship may ease Tsai’s anxiety, albeit temporarily.
The US should match its words with deeds and uphold the one-China principle with sincerity. It was the 50th anniversary of the release of the Shanghai Communique on Monday, in which the US side acknowledged that Taiwan is a part of China and reaffirmed “its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves”.
That’s a responsible stance for the US to adopt today.
As for Tsai, her anxiety will continue to grow as it stems from her knowledge that her secessionist cause is doomed to failure as it goes against the will of the Chinese nation.