Editorial Roundup: United States
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on the Catholic Church scandal:
On his plane back to Rome from a Middle East trip recently, Pope Francis acknowledged that the Vatican faces pushback in its efforts to overhaul the Catholic Church’s habits of denial, secrecy and coverup surrounding clerical sexual abuse. “There are people within the church who still do not see clearly,” he said, adding that “not everyone has courage.”
The pontiff’s delicate phrasing, and his timing, underscored the compounding damage the scandal has inflicted on the church’s moral authority and prestige. Days after Pope Francis shared those thoughts with journalists, new revelations of high-level sexual misconduct and coverup in France shattered illusions of progress by the church toward establishing a culture of transparency and accountability in its hierarchy.
That problem was crystallized in the admission by Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, who was the archbishop of Bordeaux for 18 years before he retired in 2019, that he had behaved “in a reprehensible way” with a 14-year-old girl 35 years ago when he was a parish priest. The news was made more astonishing by the fact that Cardinal Ricard served as president of the Bishops’ Conference of France from 2001 to 2007, even as revelations of clerical sexual abuse rocked the church — first in Boston, then throughout dioceses in the United States and worldwide. Yet the prelate continued exercising his authority as one of the French church’s most prominent figures. He is now being investigated by French prosecutors in Marseille for “aggravated sexual assault.”
The cardinal’s public confession followed last month’s disclosure that another prelate, Michel Santier, 75, had been removed as bishop of Creteil, near Paris. The fact that he had been disciplined, after allegations that he had abused young adults decades ago, was overshadowed by the church’s silence on the matter. It had said nothing about the accusations or action taken against him until they were reported by the French media in October. He is now also under investigation by prosecutors.
Pope Francis has said there is no turning back from “irreversible” steps designed to enhance safeguards against clergy child sexual abuse and has said the church has adopted a “zero tolerance” policy toward offenders in the priesthood and the hierarchy. His push for reforms has featured broadening the church’s definition of sexual crimes, requiring nuns and priests to inform their superiors of abuse allegations, holding bishops and other prelates to account for their handling of instances of abuse, and empowering the Vatican’s own commission that deals with cases of sexual abuse, elevating its status and clout.
Yet the ongoing evidence of years-long silence in cases involving senior prelates and others in the hierarchy points to the internal institutional foot-dragging that Pope Francis acknowledged. So does the attitude of the church hierarchy in many poor countries, where the scandals of the past two decades are widely regarded as mainly a Northern Hemisphere problem, and little information has been made public about sexual abuse cases.
Pope Francis’s record is mixed on the greatest scandal to envelop the church in centuries. His forthrightness on the issue is admirable, but ultimately he, and the church, will be judged on the tangible progress they have made.
The New York Times on extremism in the United States:
On May 29, 2020, Steven Carrillo decided that his moment to take up arms against the government had arrived.
It was a Friday in downtown Oakland, California, and at 9:44 p.m., Mr. Carrillo opened the sliding door of a white van and, according to court documents, opened fire with a rifle at the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building and courthouse. Officer David Patrick Underwood was killed inside a guard booth, and his partner was seriously injured. The van sped away into the night.
About a week later, Mr. Carrillo, who was tied to the antigovernment paramilitary boogaloo movement, was arrested after he ambushed and murdered a police officer and wounded several others with homemade explosives and an assault rifle in another attack some 60 miles away. Mr. Carrillo wasn’t just linked to an antigovernment paramilitary group; he was also an active-duty sergeant in the Air Force. This summer, he was sentenced to 41 years in prison for attacking agents of the government he’d sworn to protect and defend.
There has been a steady rise in political violence in the United States — from harassment of election workers and public officials to the targeting of a Supreme Court justice to an attack on the husband of the speaker of the House of Representatives and, of course, the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. An alarming number of Americans say that political violence is usually or always justified, and this greater tolerance for violence is a direct threat to democratic governance.
America needs to reduce this threat. In recent years, the majority of political violence has come at the hands of members of right-wing extremist groups or unaffiliated adherents of their white supremacist and antigovernment ideologies. This editorial board argued in the first of this series that better enforcement of state and federal laws banning private paramilitary activity could help dismantle some of the groups at the vanguard of this violence.
One of the most troubling facts about adherents of extremist movements is that veterans, active-duty military personnel and members of law enforcement are overrepresented. One estimate, published in The Times in 2020, found that at least 25% of members of extremist paramilitary groups have a military background.
Still, only a tiny number of veterans or members of the active-duty military or law enforcement will ever join an extremist group. Their overrepresentation is partly due to extremist groups focusing on recruiting from these populations because of their skills. But the presence of these elements within the ranks of law enforcement is cause for extra concern. Of the more than 900 people arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 attacks, 135 had military or law enforcement backgrounds. The Program on Extremism at George Washington University found that among those in policing, 18 are retired, and six are active. One Capitol Police officer who was not on the scene that day but was aware of the attack later advised a participant on how to avoid being caught.
For decades, police departments, the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs have known about the problem, yet they have made only halting progress in rooting out extremists in the ranks.
Jan. 6 changed that. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was so alarmed by the events of that day that he ordered all military commands to reinforce existing regulations prohibiting extremist activity and to query service members about their views on the extent of the problem. The Defense Department standardized its screening questionnaires for recruits and changed its social media policies, so that liking or reposting white nationalist and extremist content would be considered the same as advocating it. Service members could face disciplinary action for doing so. The department also began preparing retiring members to avoid being recruited by extremist groups.
But those reforms were more easily ordered than executed. A department inspector general report released this year found that the Pentagon’s sprawling bureaucracy was unable to identify the scope of the problem across the services because it used numerous reporting systems that were not interconnected. Commanders often didn’t have a clear understanding of what was prohibited. As a result, the department “cannot fully implement policy and procedures to address extremist activity without clarifying the definitions of ‘extremism,’ ‘extremist,’ ‘active advocacy’ and ‘active participation,’” the report concluded.
After 20 years of the war on terrorism, the country is now seeing many veterans joining extremist groups like the Proud Boys.
The end of wars and the return of the disillusioned veterans they can produce have often been followed by a spike in extremism. The white power movement grew after the end of the Vietnam War, with veterans often playing leading roles. Antigovernment activity climbed in the 1990s after the first Iraq war, culminating in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh, an Army veteran who had served in Operation Desert Storm. “These groups can give disaffected veterans a sense of purpose, camaraderie, community once they leave military service,” said Cassie Miller, an extremism researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center …
Experts in the field recommend some basic steps the military should take that could make a difference. Better training, counseling and discussion of the true nature of extremism are vital and must start long before service members retire and need to continue after they do. Better staff training and better funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs are also critical to meeting this challenge, so that members who are struggling can be coaxed down a different path.
While the military can exert fairly strict control over men and women in uniform, civilian law enforcement agencies face a different set of challenges in addressing extremists or extremist sympathizers in the ranks.
At least 24 current and former police officers have been charged with crimes in relation to the Jan. 6 attacks, and dozens of others have been identified as part of the crowd at the Capitol. …
Experts who track the tactics of extremist movements have been sounding the klaxon about the growing presence of antigovernment and white supremacist groups in law enforcement for years. “Although white supremacist groups have historically engaged in strategic efforts to infiltrate and recruit from law enforcement communities, current reporting on attempts reflects self-initiated efforts by individuals, particularly among those already within law enforcement ranks, to volunteer their professional resources to white supremacist causes with which they sympathize,” an F.B.I. intelligence assessment concluded in 2006.
Last year a leaked membership roster of the Oath Keepers, a violent paramilitary group involved in the Jan. 6 attacks that recruits police officers and military personnel, included some 370 members of law enforcement and more than 100 members of the military, according to an Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism analysis …
Identifying members of extremist groups and those sympathetic to their ideology to make sure they don’t join the thin blue line in the first place should be a priority for departments and governments nationwide. Yet most departments don’t have explicit prohibitions on officers joining extremist paramilitary groups, according to a 2020 study by the Brennan Center for Justice.
Since Jan. 6, however, some states have successfully pushed for reforms. This fall, California passed a law that requires law enforcement agencies to screen candidates for participation in groups that promote hate crimes or genocide. In April, Minnesota’s police officer standards board proposed a series of rule changes, including barring people who belong to or support extremist groups from getting a law enforcement license. Public hearings, which are set to be held on those changes, deserve support. Other states and communities should look closely at these measures as a model. …
Americans have a nearly unlimited right to free speech and association, and any effort to stop extremist violence must ensure that those rights are protected. Reforms should be carefully structured to avoid the abuses that occurred in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks — the violations of civil liberties, mass surveillance and the accelerated militarization of the police, to name a few. But protecting freedom of expression need not stand in the way of tackling extremism in police departments.
Officers around the country have rightly been fired for racist or extremist actions. But punishment for harboring extremist sympathies is a finer line, because Americans have the right to believe what they like. So, the treatment of officers with extremist beliefs and extremist connections is often uneven. This year, a New York prison guard who belonged to a right-wing hate group was ultimately fired — not just for membership but also for trying to smuggle hate literature into the prison. This may be a useful model in determining where extremist ideology crosses the line to actions that can be addressed by law or regulation.
Other recent attempts to root out extremism have been less clear-cut. An unidentified police officer in Chicago was given a four-month suspension but was not dismissed after it was discovered that he had ties to the Proud Boys. Last month, a police officer in Massachusetts was found to have been involved in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. He resigned, and the district attorney announced an investigation into all closed and pending cases he had worked on.
Coordinating the efforts of the nation’s roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies has been notoriously difficult. Federal standards or even guidelines about how to deal with extremism — in recruiting officers, disciplining existing ones or even sharing information — would go a long way toward harmonizing law enforcement’s response. But carrying out such changes would require both local attention to detail and the political will to do so. It would also require staffing law enforcement with people committed to the rule of law, rather than rule by force. As one congressional staff member working on homeland security issues put it: “People have to decide this is a priority. We can’t legislate hearts and minds.”
Across the board, extremists and their sympathizers, whether they act on their beliefs or just spread them, erode the public’s trust in the institutions that are designed to keep the country safe. Extremists bearing badges can put at risk ongoing police investigations by leaking confidential information. In the military, extremists pose a threat to good order and discipline. In law enforcement, extremists — particularly white supremacists — pose a threat to the people they are meant to protect, especially people of color. In federal agencies, extremists can compromise national security and make our borders even less secure. Protecting those institutions and the nation they serve demands urgent action.
The Wall Street Journal on Biden’s student loan forgiveness:
Things aren’t going well for President Biden’s student loan cancellation. On Monday the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals enjoined the $400 billion write-off, its second legal defeat in days. This is what happens when the President subverts the law for election politics.
The appellate court’s unsigned opinion focuses on the threshold question of whether Missouri suffered a concrete and particular injury to sue. Missouri argued that the loan cancellation would cost its student loan servicer, Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (Mohela), revenue and impose administrative burdens.
Missouri lawmakers established Mohela as a “public instrumentality” in 1981 in part to provide financial aid to students. A lower-court judge, however, ruled that lawmakers intended Mohela to be a “self-sustaining and financially independent agency.” Ergo, Missouri couldn’t sue since the state wasn’t directly harmed by the loan write-off.
The Eighth Circuit disagreed, noting that state law specifically directs Mohela to distribute $350 million into a state fund for capital projects at public colleges, among other things. Mohela still owes $105 million. The Administration’s loan write-off could impair its obligation and threaten financial harm to the state.
After granting Missouri legal standing, the court explained that the equities “strongly favor an injunction” since the debt cancellation would have an irreversible impact on the state while an injunction wouldn’t currently harm borrowers. That’s ironically because the Administration extended its student loan payment pause through December.
Conservatives have criticized liberal judges for issuing universal injunctions that pre-empt other lower courts from forming their own decisions. But in this case the Eighth Circuit noted it would be impractical to limit an injunction to Missouri and its fellow plaintiff states since Mohela services some $168 billion in student loans from borrowers nationwide.
“We discern no workable path in this emergency posture for narrowing the scope of relief,” the court writes. The Eighth Circuit ruling follows a Texas federal judge’s vacatur on Thursday in a case brought by two borrowers who argued the Administration violated their procedural rights by not undertaking notice and comment.
Missouri strikes us as having the stronger case on the question of standing. But the important point is to stop loans from being canceled, which would do irreparable harm to the constitutional separation of powers and national fisc. If Republicans take the House, they could also sue the Administration for usurping the chamber’s power of the purse.
Mr. Biden’s loan write-off is the largest presidential abuse of power in decades, and it’s good to see courts stepping up to their obligations to enforce the Constitution. This case may be heading to the Supreme Court.
The Los Angeles Times on Trump and the 2024 election:
Don’t misunderstand what Donald Trump means when he says he’s running for president again, as he did Tuesday evening.
He doesn’t mean that he will present his case to the American people in 2024 in the expectation that a majority of them will choose him, as they have never done before — not in 2016, when he lost the popular vote but won the electoral college, nor in 2020, when he lost both.
He doesn’t mean that he puts his faith in American democracy, election integrity, the laws of presidential succession or any other institution that is coterminous with the nation itself. He doesn’t mean he plans to abide by any of those things.
That would be what pretty much any other candidate would mean. But not Trump.
The ex-president has demonstrated unmistakably that he intends to take the office by hook or by crook, by denying the validity of any vote against him, by lying to his armed and angry rabble, by pressuring state election officials, state legislatures and federal courts to lie, cheat and otherwise betray the American people and their democracy.
He means that winning office, for him, need not mean being elected to it, but merely attaining it, even by coup if that’s what it takes.
That’s not hyperbole, or mere opinion. It’s not simply a hunch or a worry. It’s a fact, verified by his shocking and unprecedented actions and statements following his November 3, 2020, defeat. It’s inherent in his blatantly false claims that ballots two years ago were lost, stolen or fraudulently cast. It’s documented in his attempt to obstruct Congress in certifying his election loss by calling on his vice president to break the law, and by summoning his own supporters to Washington to march on the Capitol to thwart the ceremonial count. It’s clear by his rapt attention to the televised deadly invasion of the Capitol after his speech whipping up the mob, and his failure, for more than three hours, to call on the insurrectionists to stand down.
It’s evident by his role in adding January. 6, 2021, to the list of unforgettable dates — December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001 — on which the nation’s laws, democracy and freedom were imperiled.
And it’s obvious by his refusal, even now, to acknowledge that he lost the 2020 election or that he tried to sabotage the will of the people.
Hoping he might suddenly play by the rules, abide by the law and acknowledge the truth is absurd. He’s the same man he was two years ago. He doesn’t deny it.
The danger that he poses is not that the American people will say yes to his latest candidacy, but that when they once again say no he will once again do whatever he can to subvert their decision.
He has enough true believers, hopelessly lost in blind supplication, to help him inflict mortal danger on the republic. It is stunning to hear self-proclaimed patriots and prophets call for military intervention to overturn their hero’s prior defeat. That is the stuff of fascist dictatorship.
And it is pathetic to watch the rubber-spined senators, governors and other elected officials who have basked in Trump’s glow now ponder whether to hold tight or to drop him now that his weakness with voters was displayed in the historic Nov. 8 midterm elections, where election deniers lost their bids to take control of state elections. And where he led his party — for the second straight election — to loss of Senate control.
It is tempting to pull up a seat to watch Trump be defeated and his cult dismantled by former acolytes like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is vying to replace him as the Republican Party’s standard bearer, or former Vice President Mike Pence, who has finally acknowledged that just maybe Trump’s tweets to the mob on Jan. 6 were “reckless.” Or by Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, a once-unapologetic Trump partisan who now claims he always said Trump was “dishonest, disloyal, incompetent, crude.”
But because Trump’s past and possible future paths to power are paved with lies and sedition, not legitimate election victory, it matters little that he has never won a majority of American votes and is unlikely to ever do so. His declaration of candidacy should be treated as the pealing of bells, warning the people of danger in their midst.
The Guardian on the U.S. midterm elections:
Some setbacks count almost as good news. Clearly, the Democrats have lost ground in the midterms. While it may be weeks before control of the Senate is determined, if Georgia goes to a runoff, the Republicans still appear likely to take the House, though more narrowly than hoped. They will use control to mire the administration in legislative deadlock and committee investigations. High-profile Democrats such as Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Beto O’Rourke in Texas were also easily defeated.
But this was “definitely not a Republican wave, that is for darn sure”, the senator Lindsey Graham acknowledged as early results came in on Tuesday night. The sense of the GOP falling short is not just about pre-poll punditry. Joe Biden may be on track for the best performance by an incumbent in the midterms since 2002, when George W Bush enjoyed extraordinary popularity in the wake of September 11. Mr. Biden’s approval ratings are mediocre at best, thanks in large part to high inflation. Yet the president appears to have done markedly better than Barack Obama did in 2010 on similar figures.
It was also a bad night for Donald Trump … There will be an increased MAGA caucus in the House (giving Kevin McCarthy, currently minority leader, a headache). But while the former president’s support may be critical in primaries, it looks less helpful in general elections. True, JD Vance won his Senate race in Ohio; but the Democrat John Fetterman flipped Pennsylvania, defeating Mehmet Oz, and in Michigan, the governor Gretchen Whitmer saw off the challenge from Tudor Dixon. Two Republican victories were almost as unwelcome to Mr. Trump: the re-election of Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, who defied his pressure to overturn the results in the state in 2020, and especially the landslide in Florida for Ron DeSantis, seen as the most likely challenger for the presidential nomination –- as Mr. Trump’s threats to the governor show.
In many ways the Democrats’ performance looked more like the result of a vote against Republican extremism than a vote of confidence in Mr. Biden’s party. Inflation was the top issue for voters, but abortion came close behind – and outranked it in Pennsylvania. Despite GOP candidates’ last-minute attempts to blur their hardline anti-abortion stances, as they realized their unpopularity, voters turned out to defend women’s right to autonomy and healthcare. California, Michigan and Vermont supported ballot measures that effectively prevent state legislators enacting bans. In North Carolina (a key destination for people from anti-abortion states), Republicans did not get the supermajority they sought in the state house, which would have allowed them to enact a total or six-week abortion ban. Protecting democracy was another key concern for voters. An alarming number of election deniers won races; some will now oversee future votes. But many others were rejected.
Overall the results are a fillip for Democrat morale and, despite Mr. Biden’s relatively low profile in this campaign, strengthen his position in his party (though according to one exit poll, only 30% of voters said they wanted him to run again in 2024; 67% said they didn’t). He will also retain precious authority in international dealings. All this is a relief. But after one of the most ferociously fought elections, with a staggering $16.7bn spent, the U.S.’s challenges and divisions are as glaring as ever.
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