Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Wall Street Journal on ‘melodrama’ in Texas Legislature:
As the Texas legislative session drew near its end Sunday, lawmakers appeared set to pass a bill overhauling the state’s elections, until Democrats did one final maneuver: They snuck out of the building. “Members, take your key and leave the chamber discreetly,” a Democratic leader in the state House told his caucus in a 10:35 p.m. text message.
The extraordinary move deprived the House of a quorum, killing the bill for now, at the cost of undermining the legislative process. But what do you expect after months of Democratic alarms about “voter suppression”? President Biden on Saturday called the Texas plan “un-American” and “part of an assault on democracy.” At least this time he didn’t say it’s worse than Jim Crow, which was the political bomb he lobbed at Georgia’s bill.
The reality is more prosaic. To start with the controversial, the 67-page bill would roll back Covid-19 innovations like Harris County’s drive-through voting and 24-hour voting. Those options were used disproportionately last year by black and Hispanic residents. But when did emergency procedures amid a 100-year pandemic suddenly become the new baseline? It’s hardly crazy to think polling-place shenanigans might be more likely at 3 a.m.
The bill says that on the last Sunday of early voting, polling places may not open until 1 p.m. This is a political mistake, at minimum, in that it’s being spun as an attack on black churches that have a “souls to the polls” tradition. One lawmaker supporting the bill argued: “Those election workers want to go to church, too.” But some people take care of their religious obligations on Saturdays, and in any event Texas repealed most of its blue laws in 1985. Lawmakers would be wise to drop this provision.
Under the bill, Texas would still offer some two weeks of early voting. Mr. Biden’s beloved Delaware won’t have any early voting until 2022, when it will get 10 days. The Texas bill would also raise minimum hours. In the final week, counties with 100,000 people must currently open their “main” polling place 12 hours on weekdays and five hours on Sunday. That population threshold would drop to 30,000, and six hours would be mandated on Sunday.
Mail ballots and applications would ask for a state ID number or the last four digits of a Social Security number. Georgia and Florida have passed similar measures, and the goal is to verify identity without having to do subjective signature analysis. In Georgia’s 2018 elections, black voters accounted for 54% of the ballots rejected for signature or oath issues. The Texas bill says if ID numbers match, the voter’s signature would be “presumed” valid.
The bill would change the legal standard for proving fraud to “a preponderance of the evidence” from “clear and convincing evidence.” If the number of illegal votes matched the margin, courts could throw out a race, without showing that fraud changed the result. Critics say this is a pander to Donald Trump, but Mr. Trump lost in 2020 under either standard.
Whether the new rules are too lax is a judgment call: Imagine a race decided by 50 votes, with 51 illegal ballots detected. Did more slip through? Perhaps the best thing for public confidence would be to redo the election.
The bill has many odds and ends. Offering “vote harvesting services in exchange for compensation” would be prohibited. Tabulating machines would be banned “if any wireless connectivity capability of the equipment has not been disabled.” Communications between public officials and voting-system vendors would be generally deemed “not confidential.” On election returns, mail ballots would be reported separately. Employers would be barred, “while early voting is in progress,” from refusing to excuse workers who want to go to the polls.
The Texas bill isn’t perfect, but no election law is since the exercise involves balancing ballot access, election security, ease of administration, and so forth. The point is that it’s hard to take seriously Mr. Biden’s narrative about an assault on democracy in a state that gives voters two weeks to cast a vote. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday that the election bill will be added to the Legislature’s agenda for a coming special session.
Look forward, then, to more overheated rhetoric from partisans like Mr. Biden. But remember that his histrionics are intended to give political cover to Democrats in Congress who want to override 50 state election laws by jamming through H.R.1 on a partisan vote. That’s the real voting-law outrage.
Business Day on Africa Union's role to broker peace in Ethiopia:
After months of high-level diplomatic talks to end a deadly conflict in Ethiopia, the US’s patience ran out a week ago when it hit several people accused of responsibility for the ongoing fighting with visa travel restrictions.
“The time for action from the international community is now,” secretary of state Antony Blinken said. “The parties to the conflict in Tigray have taken no meaningful steps to end hostilities or pursue a peaceful resolution of the political crisis.”
The conflict began in November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered military action in the northern Tigray region in retaliation to what he described as an attack on an army base by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which rules the state and has pulled out of a coalition of ethnically based political parties that has governed the country since 1991.
Since then thousands of people have been killed, 2-million have been forced from their homes and 91% of the population of nearly 6-million are in need of aid, says the latest report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. ...
... There are also credible accounts of human rights abuses, including mass killings of civilians and gang rapes of Tigrayan women. Almost all medical facilities in the region have been deliberately looted, vandalised or destroyed, while schools have been occupied by fighters.
It’s a situation that behooves the international community, including the AU, to protect civilians from the atrocities perpetrated by Ethiopian troops, which are fighting alongside soldiers from the neighbouring country of Eritrea, and guerrilla fighters from TPLF.
Just as the US, at the risk of straining relations with an important ally in a volatile region, especially against Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants Al-Shabaab in Somalia, rightly acknowledges that Abiy has failed to figure out the road to a ceasefire, it is time for the AU to do the same.
In November, just after the conflict erupted, the AU sent envoys to quell the conflict that threatens to spill over to neighbouring countries.
Late in 2020, Abiy, a Nobel peace prize winner for ending what seemed to be an intractable military standoff with Eritrea, met former presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of SA, during which he laid all blame for the crisis on the TPLF leadership.
Abiy was not contemplating a ceasefire then, nor is he now given that his government characterised the US move to hit those responsible for inflaming the conflict with sanctions as an unwelcome interference in Ethiopian internal affairs.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is said to be backing proposals to send another AU team to try to find a peaceful solution. We doubt it would convince Abiy to seriously talk to the TPLF, which he considers a terrorist organisation.
The unfolding humanitarian disaster in Tigray demands that the AU make good on its pledge to “silence the guns”.
Failure to act against the conflict in a country that is home to the institution’s headquarters is an embarrassing show of a missing African leadership.
“It is one thing not to act, it is another to be indifferent when the world tries to help,” renowned British-Nigerian academic Funmi Olonisakin said in an address at the annual Thabo Mbeki Africa Day Lecture last week.
The least the AU could do is to link up with the US in trying to find a peaceful solution.
The Scranton (Pa.) Times-Tribune on the opioid crisis and ending corporate escape hatches:
More than 450,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses in less than a decade. Though the synthetic and powerful opioid fentanyl now is the leading cause of opioid overdose deaths, the epidemic had its roots in prescription opioid addiction.
That, in turn, had its roots in a marketing strategy for prescription opioids that falsely claimed that the drugs were not addictive, and encouraging doctors to consider pain to be as important a condition as the underlying cause.
That strategy, in turn, was developed by Purdue Pharma, developer of the powerful opioid painkiller OxyContin.
Thousands of lawsuits by state governments and individuals have been filed against the privately held company and its owners, the Sackler family of Connecticut, who have wealth estimated at $10.8 billion.
The company filed for bankruptcy in September 2019 as the lawsuits accumulated, and the family subsequently asked the court to include them in the protections sought by the company, at least temporarily freezing the lawsuits.
Democratic U.S. Reps. Carolyn R. Maloney of New York, chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, and Mark DeSaulnier of California, have introduced the SACKLER Act — Stop Shielding Assets from Corporate Known Liability by Eliminating Non-Debtor Releases Act.
It would preclude individuals accused of wrongdoing by state or federal governments from using bankruptcy as an escape hatch to evade personal responsibility for damages.
People harmed by others’ wayward conduct should not be precluded from compensation through inappropriate use of bankruptcy protections. Congress should pass the bill.
The Kansas City Star questions why peaceful protesters face jail time:
Christopher Bizzle leads Kansas City-based Black Rainbow, a group that regularly denounces police brutality. He could end up in jail for exercising his right to protest peacefully.
The 23-year-old Kansas City man has been charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct in separate incidents. In one of these, Bizzle was accused of placing a poster board with the names of Black people killed or abused by Kansas City police officers on a memorial for fallen officers.
“I never committed a crime," Bizzle said.
Placing signage on the Kansas City Police Memorial for fallen officers is not illegal, or shouldn’t be.
The area in front of police headquarters where the statue is located was deemed off-limits after vandals spray-painted the base of the fixture, police officials said. The perpetrators were identified and arrested. A chain was erected around the monument. A no trespassing sign went up with a warning of arrest.
Aren’t there any more serious crimes for the KCPD to focus on? Of course there are.
But then, the KCPD seems to think it’s more of a violation to put up a sign about police brutality than to commit the brutality that’s led to the death of unarmed Kansas Citians.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Kansas City 3rd District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson, who plans to address the issue with fellow council members.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right. It’s also a cry for help. People are hurting over police brutality and the grave injustices faced by people of color. Yet Kansas City prosecutor Linda Miller continues to seek jail time for peaceful protesters.
In a separate case, Bizzle was also charged with one count of disorderly conduct for allegedly stepping into the street to throw a water bottle at a passing car during a Country Club Plaza protest last September, according to Municipal Court records. He denied the allegation.
Steveland Young and Winifred Jamieson have also been arrested multiple times over the last year for protest-related offenses. Young, 50, and Jamieson, 47, stand accused of repeatedly placing a Black Lives Matter flag around the police memorial.
If found guilty, Young and Jamieson face a $500 fine, six months in jail and 20 hours of community service on each charge.
More than two dozen protest-related cases at or near police headquarters in downtown Kansas City were pending in Municipal Court last week, according to court records. Of the 30 active cases, 18 were for trespassing, three for the destruction of property for ripping off the trespassing sign and three for defacing the police monument.
After the protests that followed George Floyd’s murder a year ago, the Kansas City Council forced Miller to drop all nonviolent offenses that occurred from May 29 to June 2 last year in four areas of town: the Plaza, Mill Creek Park, Westport and the central city corridor, where several demonstrations took place. At least 200 such cases were dismissed.
Young and Jamieson’s cases weren’t dismissed because they didn’t protest at one of those locations, and didn’t protest only during that time period.
The couple regularly protests at police headquarters to bring attention to the officer-involved shooting deaths of Ryan Stokes, Cameron Lamb, Terrance Bridges, Donnie Sanders and others killed or abused by Kansas City police officers.
Offered a plea deal, the couple refused. “All we’ve been doing is memorializing people who have been killed by police,” Jamieson said
The Kansas City Council needs to address why people are still facing jail time for peaceful protests. And the police need to explain why, given all the violent crime in our city, they have so much time to protect a memorial from signs and flags.
The Portland (Maine) Press on race, the filibuster and D.C. statehood:
Every American has one representative in Congress and two senators, who are elected to look out for their interests in the national government.
Every American, that is, except for the 700,000 people who live in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital.
Having an island of disenfranchisement so prominently placed in a country that promotes democracy around the world is an embarrassment. The fact that a plurality of these unrepresented Americans are African Americans is a human rights disgrace. After 250 years of chattel slavery and nearly a century of Jim Crow, allowing the people of D.C. to elect their own representatives is long overdue.
Fortunately, we can finally do something about it. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would turn Washington, D.C., into Washington Douglass Commonwealth, the 51st state.
All it would take to make this happen is for 50 senators to vote to eliminate the Senate’s filibuster rule, which allows the minority party to block legislation, and then pass the statehood bill. And no senators should be more open to that action than Maine’s senators, Susan Collins and Angus King.
After all, Maine would still be a part of Massachusetts if a previous Congress had not decided that the people who lived here deserved representation. And both Collins and King would be out of a job if the Compromise of 1820 had been subject to a filibuster – it squeaked through the Senate only by a vote of 24-20.
A number of obstacles have been presented to D.C. statehood, but none of them passes the straight-face test.
Some argue that Washington is too small to be a state, but its population is larger than two of the current 50: Wyoming and Vermont.
Some argue that the land under the city could be returned to Maryland, allowing D.C. residents to vote there. But neither the district’s residents nor the people of Maryland want that to happen. The remarriage of Washington and Maryland would be about as awkward as forcing Maine to rejoin Massachusetts after 200 years of living apart.
It’s also been proposed that it would take a constitutional amendment to approve the new state, requiring two-thirds approval in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states.
But each of the 37 states that has come into the Union since the Constitution was adopted was admitted by congressional action, not constitutional amendment. It’s very strange that the only state that would require such an extraordinary process is the one that is predominantly Black.
Dozens of constitutional scholars and political scientists have signed a letter to congressional leaders saying that there is nothing in the Constitution that prevents Congress from doing what it has done 37 times in the past.
Another objection is that this would help Democrats politically, but that’s nothing new. There was only one Dakota Territory in the 1880s, but it became two states because the Republicans who controlled Congress wanted to make sure there were enough members of their party to keep the Senate.
Over the years, however, North Dakota and South Dakota have sent plenty of Democrats to Washington, including liberal South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972. Political alignment isn’t always predictable.
D.C. statehood would be a victory for democracy, not just for Democrats. Stopping citizens from voting just because they may not vote for your party violates the core values of our democracy. Equality is not equality if only some people have it.
The status of D.C. residents has been a stain on the reputation of our country for too long. Rectifying this injustice is within our grasp – if the members of the Senate are willing to seize it.
The Tampa Bay Times on lame excuses from Jan. 6 Capitol rioters:
Some of the defendants facing charges in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol deserve points for creativity. Among the defense arguments emerging in court documents: “I got caught up in the mob” and “Trump told me to do it.” But the “mob” and the individuals charged in the insurrection are one and the same, and breaking the law just because you think a higher authority with a well-known penchant for dangerous rhetoric said you could doesn’t make it right. The attempt to brush aside criminal behavior with such lame excuses turns the concept of personal responsibility on its head.
The images from that day are already infamous: crowds tearing down police barriers outside the Capitol complex and sparring with outnumbered officers; jubilant rioters live-streaming and taking selfies inside the building; a man with his feet propped up on the desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Many Americans watched the mob on television, stunned at the sight of a hallowed institution of our democracy being overrun by thugs.
Now they want us to believe they just got swept up in the moment. A Texas man accused of helping break a glass door in the House chamber now says he never planned to storm the building. Yet authorities say he did — and ended up inside with a yellow flag around his neck that said “Don’t Tread on Me.” Another defendant from Chicago says he only went to Washington that day to attend the rally where then-President Donald Trump fired up the crowd with false claims about a stolen election. According to the FBI, Kevin James Lyons claimed there was little he could do to escape the crowd because he weighs only 140 pounds. Apparently it will be left to a jury to make sense of how the disadvantage of his bodyweight led him to post a photo on social media captioned, “WHOS HOUSE?!?!? OUR HOUSE??”
Other defendants facing charges from Jan. 6 are invoking what’s known as a public authority defense — in essence, Trump gave them permission to do what they did. One defendant, a Marine named Dominic Pezzola, said he was following his commander-in-chief’s orders that day, and now feels betrayed by Trump. While a public authority defense is not likely to work at trial, it’s a sobering reminder of the sway Trump holds over many of his followers, who take his words literally, no matter how reckless.
Now imagine the hair-on-fire reaction among conservative commentators if protesters in Minneapolis accused of vandalism had tried to make the “caught up in the mob” argument. Or if the millions of people who took to the streets across the country in support of racial justice following George Floyd’s death last year said they were overcome by the moment? Republicans in three dozen states including Florida responded to those demonstrations with heavy-handed legislation billed as “anti riot.” When a civil rights protest turns violent, will Gov. Ron DeSantis accept the argument that the perpetrators just got caught up in the moment?
Hardly. And no one who stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to disrupt the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory can blame anyone but themselves for the legal consequences they now face. The idea that a mob made them do it or that they’re not responsible because of Trump’s wild claims is laughable. And their violent attempt to subvert our democracy was deadly serious.