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Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Kansas City Star on Sen. Bob Dole and the spirit of compromise:
Robert J. Dole — war hero, senator, presidential candidate, Kansan — has died, at the age of 98.
We offer condolences to his wife, Elizabeth, his family, and the many friends and colleagues he met over a full lifetime of service to his country.
We didn’t always agree with Bob Dole’s politics. He usually didn’t agree with us. But there can be no doubt the Russell native will be remembered as a titan of 20th century American government, and as one of the most important political figures in Kansas history.
At the same time, Dole’s legacy extends beyond his many accomplishments in Washington, or his resume. He remains important in our time. His tireless effort to find common ground with political opponents is more critical today than it was when he left elected office in the 1990s.
WAR WOUNDS INFORMED PUBLIC SERVICE
His story begins plainly enough.
Dole was not born to wealth — his family ran a small cream and egg business in Russell, Kansas, where he went to high school. After graduation, he enrolled at the University of Kansas.
World War II intervened, however, as it did for millions of Americans. Dole joined the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, where he served as a second lieutenant.
In April 1945, just days before Germany surrendered, Dole’s unit engaged the enemy on an Italian hilltop. A fierce battle left Dole grievously hurt, with internal injuries, a shattered shoulder and a permanently disabled arm. He barely survived.
The wounded veteran returned to the United States, where he began a grueling four-year struggle to regain his health. Famously, friends and neighbors in Russell passed a cigar box to help pay for his care. Experimental medicine and a series of operations aided the wounded veteran.
Dole’s war injuries deeply informed his life in public service. Through his rehabilitation, and setbacks, he developed an iron will, a sometimes caustic sense of humor — and an understanding that no one truly walks alone in this world. Sometimes you need help.
“I had a more optimistic view of the human race,” he later wrote. “Having benefited from an extraordinary outpouring of affection and support, how could I feel otherwise?”
REPUTATION FOR PARTISAN POLITICAL WARFARE
At times, Dole’s optimism could be hard to find.
As his career developed — state representative, county attorney, the U.S. House, the Senate — Dole’s reputation for sometimes heated partisanship grew. He was called a “hatchet man,” a caricature that, like all caricatures, contained a stubborn grain of truth.
He barely won his 1974 Senate reelection campaign, leaning on a controversial anti-abortion commercial to prevail. Two years later, some Republicans blamed Dole’s “Democrat wars” debate wisecrack for Gerald Ford’s presidential defeat in 1976.
Dole’s 1980 presidential campaign collapsed quickly. But the seeds of his greatest days had been planted.
MAJOR ROLE IN RONALD REAGAN YEARS
In 1980, Americans overwhelmingly elected Ronald Reagan as president, and put Republicans in charge of the U.S. Senate, Dole among them.
Mainstream conservatives remember the Reagan years as the pinnacle of their movement. Yet Dole’s essential role should not be overlooked: The Kansas senator, more than any other single person, was responsible for the tax cuts of 1981, the 1980s rescue of Social Security and the myriad smaller accomplishments of Reagan’s terms in office.
He was, for a time, the most influential man in Washington. “People had real problems!” journalist Richard Ben Cramer wrote, explaining Dole’s thoughts at the time. “Government had to respond.”
Dole’s support for the food stamp program was legendary, and essential. He worked to protect the disabled. As Senate majority leader, he shepherded the massive immigration reform act of 1986.
He fiercely protected agriculture.
He helped create the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “To those who would worry about cost, I would suggest they hurry back to their pocket calculators and estimate the cost of 300 years of slavery,” he said at the time.
In all of this, the senator worked harder than anyone, and always — always — believed a deal could be found. Almost always, he found it.
Yet Dole’s party was changing, even then, in ways few recognized. Dole’s obsession with excessive federal red ink and solid accomplishment was giving way to the cultural anti-government conservatism of Newt Gingrich and others.
Dole’s time was running out. He reached twice more for the White House.
PRESIDENTIAL BIDS UNSUCCESSFUL
It was not to be. Dole’s temper backfired after a surprise loss in the 1988 New Hampshire primary, dimming his White House aspirations. He tried again in 1996, seizing his party’s nomination, only to lose to incumbent President Bill Clinton.
He left the Senate that year — “a private citizen, a Kansan, an American, just a man,” he said. His lifelong public career, falling just short of the ultimate prize, drew to a close.
“We can lead or we can mislead, as the people’s representatives, but whatever we do, we will be held responsible,” he told colleagues, Republicans and Democrats.
“I’m not talking about 1996,” he said. “I’m talking about any time, or the next century.”
A FORGOTTEN LEGACY OF COMPROMISE
Today, America mourns Bob Dole.
We remember the man who worked as a private citizen to honor fellow World War II veterans. We think of the man who tried to extend disability protections to the world.
We mourn an elected official who understood, through his own pain, responsibility — for a neighbor, a friend, a constituent, a country. We mourn the loss of that understanding in our politics.
We mourn the disappearance of compromise. It’s said Dole could not have won an election in Kansas in the 21st century. It’s probably true. That’s our fault, not his.
But his example remains with us, if we listen closely for the voice of Kansas’ favorite son, his words a reminder of what our nation used to be, and might be again.
“The American people are looking at us,” he said in his final Senate speech. “And they want us to tell the truth.”
The Dallas Morning News on Texas execution and a dying man’s religious request:
In 2008, John Henry Ramirez, 37, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die for the 2004 murder and robbery of Pablo Castro, a convenience store clerk in Corpus Christi.
But his scheduled September execution was delayed, not because of something to do with his case but because of an issue over how Ramirez wants to die.
Ramirez has requested that his pastor, Dana Moore of Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, be in the death chamber with him, praying aloud and touching him at the moment of death. The state of Texas says its protocols protecting the “security, integrity and solemnity” of executions allow Moore to be present, but only if he stays quiet and does not touch Ramirez.
Given the enormous burden that comes with taking a life as punishment, we believe the state has a responsibility to show compassion as much as possible here, so long as it doesn’t threaten safety or interrupt the appropriate decorum of the death chamber.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case and, according to reporting by The Washington Post, the justices seemed split into unusual alliances. The court’s conservative members, who are typically hawkish on religious freedom issues, seemed skeptical of Ramirez’s request, while the court’s more liberal members seemed sympathetic.
Texas Solicitor General Judd E. Stone II argued that Ramirez’s request was simply an effort to delay execution, and that the state has a right to reduce the risk of disruptions during the event.
The former point stands only because the state opposes Ramirez’s request. The delay is as much the fault of the state as the inmate.
The latter point is stronger. Certainly, prison officials have a responsibility to keep the scene orderly and safe. They have a right to vet anyone who enters the death chamber and require certain behavior of them. But the state didn’t seem to convince the justices that safety would be threatened by Ramirez’s request. Justice Elena Kagan asked Stone whether any other state that allowed similar behavior reported problems with decorum. Stone couldn’t produce such an example, The Post reported.
We’re not comfortable with the state being the arbiter of religious expression. A Protestant warden, for instance, shouldn’t reject a condemned man’s request for last rites because he’s unfamiliar with that practice. On the contrary, we would say the state has an extreme obligation toward compassion in these situations because, let’s not forget, the state is taking a human life. The death penalty is a practice we have opposed because it is too unreliably and inconsistently meted out. And, appropriate for this discussion, it is a practice opposed by many faith leaders.
As long as Ramirez’s religious expression isn’t dangerous or disorderly, the state should find a way to accommodate a dying man’s request.
The Chicago Tribune on Putin and Ukraine:
In July, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a long-winded treatise on Ukraine — the country’s history both medieval and modern, its kinship with the Russian Motherland, and its latter-day relations with the West. Mixing truths with half-truths and outright falsehoods, it rested on the dominant theme that the notion of Ukraine as its own nationality, ethnicity, culture and language is a figment, and that Ukrainians and Russians have always been, and always will be, “one people.”
“I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties formed for centuries and have their origins in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials achievements and victories,” Putin wrote. “Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people.”
The document was more than a monograph in need of a heavy edit. It serves as a veiled justification for what the former KGB agent has desperately wanted for years — the reabsorption of Ukraine into the folds of Moscow.
So far, it’s been an achievement that has eluded the Russian leader. Putin can claim credit for rescuing his country from post-Soviet economic doldrums and restoring Russia to a level of geopolitical prominence. By commandeering free media and neutralizing opposition — often through brutal means — he has cemented his place atop Russian governance for as long as he desires. Ukraine, however, remains for Putin unfinished business.
By amassing thousands of Russian troops near Ukraine’s border, Putin has sent a blunt message to the West. Submit to the Kremlin’s demand that Ukraine will never join NATO, or watch the tanks roll into Kyiv.
Strategically, Putin sees Ukraine as existential for Russia. Following the Soviet collapse in 1991, former Soviet republics and eastern European satellites of the Kremlin eagerly fell like dominoes into the hands of NATO, the Western military alliance formed as a bulwark against post-World War II Soviet aggression. Keeping Ukraine in Moscow’s orbit gives the Kremlin a valuable buffer against further eastward expansion by NATO.
Personally, however, Putin sees Ukraine as a fabricated state, a place with a 1,100-year history inexorably twined with Russia’s ancient past. To Putin, Ukraine is Russia as much as Moscow is Russia.
How to respond to Putin’s incendiary display of brinkmanship arguably poses President Joe Biden’s biggest foreign policy challenge to date. Biden can neither give into Moscow’s demand nor thrust NATO into direct military conflict with Russia. Kyiv economically and politically leans westward, but Ukraine isn’t a NATO member and therefore does not benefit from the “attack one, attack all” defense commitment that the military alliance applies to all of its member nations.
Ukraine is, however, a sovereign state with aspirations of joining NATO, and the U.S. and its European allies cannot simply allow Putin to steal land, cities and people with brute force in the same way he pilfered the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
Diplomacy armed with the cudgel of sanctions — punishment stronger than what was imposed on Russia after the Crimean annexation — is the best tack Biden can take. The White House has been mulling sanctions that choke Russia’s financial sector, including cutting off the country’s access to SWIFT, the international payment system used by the world’s banks. Heavy sanctions against Russia’s energy sector — the lifeblood of Russia’s economy — should also be on the table.
No amount of sanctions will work, however, without a unified front from America’s European allies, many of which rely far too heavily on Russian oil and natural gas. For years, that reliance has given the Kremlin powerful leverage over NATO and European Union countries. European nations have known Putin’s playbook from the start, and should have been steadily weaning themselves off Russian energy. They haven’t, and that drives a wedge into the unity the West needs to put up against Putin now.
Western leaders can only hope that Biden’s video call with the Russian leader Tuesday seeded the beginnings of a diplomatic solution out of this crisis. The message to Putin should be unequivocal. Neither Ukraine nor its people are the property of Russia. As a sovereign nation, Ukraine has license to forge its own domestic and foreign policies and pick its own allies — even if they belong to NATO. Military conflict must be avoided, but Russia should be warned that it faces the prospect of becoming a pariah state if it absorbs Ukraine the same way it swallowed up Crimea.
That’s a chapter in Russia’s history that Putin certainly would regret.
The Detroit Free Press on Oxford High shooting and gun status quo:
Our hearts are with the parents of the four students slain Tuesday in Oxford, a hell no parent should have to endure; and with the seven others wounded in the same attack. We pray for their swift, full recovery.
We sympathize as well with parents who felt death brush past their children; with teachers who prayed they’d never stand between their young charges and a murderer, and with hundreds of Oxford High students whose hopes that that their school could provide a sanctuary from senseless violence have been forever shattered.
Fifteen-year-old Ethan Crumbley, a sophomore at Oxford High School, was arraigned Wednesday on 22 counts related to the brutal attack, carried out with a semi-automatic handgun purchased by his own father just four days before. He is being tried as an adult, and faces life in prison.
Some will say that nothing can be done to prevent such attacks. Oakland County officials report that Crumbley’s parents met with school administrators over the boy’s classroom behavior just hours before the attack, but found no cause to send him home. Crumbley’s father, it seems, purchased his firearm legally.
Those same voices will argue that the hundreds of millions of firearms already in private hands make new restrictions on their sale or manufacture futile, and that any attempt to promulgate such restrictions will only violate the Second Amendment rights of lawful gun owners.
There are sensible measures that state and federal lawmakers can adopt without risk of violating anyone’s constitutional rights, if they have the courage to face down the manufacturers and Second Amendment absolutists who call the gun lobby’s tune. We can’t guarantee that any of them will dramatically reduce gun deaths. But not trying them hasn’t worked, either.
A comprehensive approach
Gun violence has three prongs: High profile massacres like the devastating attack in Oxford, which are thankfully rare; shootings associated with crime and gang activity; and suicide. Public policy solutions should recognize all three.
Let’s start with Michigan.
More than 1,200 people die and more than 3,500 are wounded by handguns each year in Michigan, according to the gun reform advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. Most of the fatalities are suicides.
Guns are the second-leading cause of death among children and teens; 89 die on average each year. More than half of youthful gun deaths are homicides.
Michigan’s figures roughly track national averages. There have been 29 gun-related injuries or deaths on American school grounds this year, Education Week reports.
Poll after poll confirms Michiganders’ support for prohibiting guns in schools, daycare centers and churches, enacting red flag laws that would keep guns out of the hands of people who pose an imminent threat to themselves or others, and other precautions ensure the safe storage and handling of firearms. And Democratic lawmakers in the GOP-controlled state Legislature have tried to deliver, proposing laws that would require universal background checks, make gun owners criminally liable for failing to secure weapons where children cannot find them them, ban weapons from state-owned public buildings, and increase funding for violence prevention programs. A bill with bipartisan support would keep weapons out of the hands of domestic abusers.
The same partisan gridlock that has left all those initiatives stalled in committee has stranded Republican efforts to weaken Michigan’s existing gun laws. Legislation proposed by GOP lawmakers would exempt some firearms owners from complying with gun-free zones, abolish the state’s pistol registry, reduce the fee for a concealed-carry permit, and exempt gun stores from shutdown orders imposed pursuant to a public health emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the local level, Detroit Police Commissioner Linda Bernard has proposed a gun buy-back similar to initiatives that have taken thousands of guns out of circulation in Seattle, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Although buy-backs have had mixed results in reducing gun violence, it’s an idea worth exploring.
A role for Washington
There’s also work for our federal government.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was forbidden to study the causes of gun violence for nearly a quarter century after 1994, when Congress adopted the Dickey Amendment — named after the lawmaker who called himself “the NRA’s point man in Washington.”
But in 2018, former President Trump signed legislation that allowed the agency to resume limited research, and the CDC’s current director, Rochelle Walensky, has expanded the agency’s efforts.
If you’re inclined to scoff at the notion of studying gun violence, consider that the CDC also studies obesity, fatalities among firefighters, school health, fatal injuries to youth in agricultural settings, smoking, and social behavior that contributes to the spread of viruses like COVID-19. The agency’s public health writ is far-reaching, and the number of gun deaths in this country has long commanded its attention.
The CDC is investing in 18 separate initiatives to prevent gun violence and death, and it has begun tracking the number of people who come into the nation’s emergency rooms with gunshot wounds arising from assaults, suicide attempts and accidents— something it hadn’t done before.
Congress should supplement the paltry $25 million currently allocated for this important research. While they’re at it, lawmakers should increase and redeploy funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which relies on just 770 investigators to oversee more than 77,000 licensed gun dealers and manufacturers and 9,500 businesses licensed to sell explosives.
A better world
There’s no evidence that implementing any of these proposals, or all of them together, would have prevented this week’s massacre. But the tragedy in Oxford does underline how reluctant Michigan legislators have been to demand that gun owners exercise even minimal caution. Even as detectives investigate how the Oxford shooter acquired a handgun he was not authorized to own, a bill that would make failing to secure a weapon beyond the reach of minors a $500 misdemeanor is languishing in Lansing for want of GOP support.
“If the incident yesterday with four children being murdered and multiple kids being injured is not enough to revisit our gun laws,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said Wednesday, “I don’t know what is.”
So far, Republican lawmakers have been immune to that sense of urgency. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey says he remains wary of overregulation, and cautions that if he and his colleagues endeavor to eliminate every threat, Michiganders could wake up in a world they don’t recognize.
Shirkey means that as a warning. But as Michigan residents survey the all-too-familiar damage in Oxford, they may consider it a hopeful prospect. What would a world we don’t recognize be like? It has to be better than this.
The Boston Herald on investigating UFOs — really:
A few years ago, it would have drawn jokes and scorn. But given the continuing mystery over what, exactly, U.S. military pilots are seeing in the skies, a congressional proposal to create an “Anomaly Surveillance and Resolution Office” — an office to investigate what used to be called UFOs — makes sense.
This is no laughing matter. In 2017, The New York Times reported that the U.S. military was gathering data from pilots who had reported unexplained encounters during their flights. Recently released video of some of those encounters defies conventional explanation — objects moving at speeds and in ways that don’t conform with current aviation technological capabilities. And unlike most of the wack-a-doodle stuff from UFO culture, the Pentagon confirms those videos are real.
It’s not to say these are little green men. This could be Russian or Chinese or North Korean technology being taken out for a test-drive under the noses of American military pilots to gauge U.S. reaction. Among the most startling aspects of the Pentagon’s recent new openness on this topic is its acknowledgment that this isn’t one or two or a half-dozen unexplained encounters. It’s happening with relative frequency, often in restricted airspace.
The abbreviation UFO — unidentified flying object — was a military creation from the 1950s but has since then been so thoroughly commandeered by pop culture that the military has ditched it and now uses a new abbreviation: UAP, for “unidentified aerial phenomena.” (No doubt it’ll appear in the title of a Steven Spielberg film some time soon.)
The Pentagon this summer issued a report on UAP sightings that raised more questions than it answered. It found no solid evidence that the still-unexplained sightings were from global adversaries or … something else … but it encouraged political leaders to begin taking the issue more seriously than they traditionally have.
Not so long ago, it would have sounded like science fiction, but today it makes perfect sense that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is proposing creation of the Anomaly Surveillance and Resolution Office, dedicated to investigating these sightings as they occur. Gillibrand has introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act establishing the office.
“If it is technology possessed by adversaries or any other entity, we need to know. … Burying our heads in the sand is neither a strategy nor an acceptable approach,” Gillibrand told Politico last month. “I can count on one hand the number of hearings I had in 10 years on this topic. That’s fairly concerning given the experience our service members have had over the last decade.”
The idea has wide bipartisan support — a rarity these days, and an indication of how seriously this once-snicker-inducing topic is now being taken in Washington. For once, Washington is right.
The Toronto Star on diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics:
The Biden administration made it official on Monday: none of its diplomats or officials will attend the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.
In light of the Chinese government’s egregious violations of human rights and international norms, said a spokesman for Washington, “it cannot be business as usual.”
Which asks the question: what on earth is the Trudeau government waiting for?
After the ordeal of the “two Michaels,” jailed in China for more than 1,000 days, Canada has more reason than almost any other country to know that it cannot be business as usual these days with Beijing.
And yet there’s no word so far that Ottawa will at the very least impose what’s become known as a “diplomatic boycott” of the Winter Games.
That involves letting athletes compete but denying the host country the extra validation that comes with official delegations from participating countries, cheering in the grandstands and lending the respectability of their presence to the proceedings.
We have little doubt that Ottawa will soon declare such a partial boycott. But in light of China’s recent treatment of Canada it should have been out ahead of Washington, not trailing along behind.
Other countries should also join in. China threatens to take what it calls “resolute countermeasures” against the U.S. boycott, but it would be a lot tougher for Beijing to act against a united front of nations that refuse to grant it the respect it seeks by hosting another Olympics.
And make no mistake, a diplomatic boycott will sting the Chinese government. When Beijing hosted its first Games, the Summer Olympics of 2008, it was regarded as a kind of “coming out” party for a country that was seeking full recognition as a major global player after decades of conflict and isolation.
The Olympics are always intertwined with politics and power displays and these Winter Games are no exception. The government of President Xi Jinping has been flexing its muscles, challenging its neighbours, and will definitely not appreciate the dissing implied by an absence of foreign leaders and officials in Beijing next February.
You can sense this in Beijing’s ridiculous attempts to dismiss possible boycotts as meaningless. Its line goes something like this: we weren’t planning to invite you anyway, so you can’t boycott us. It’s laughable.
Others argue that a diplomatic boycott, especially one led by Washington, is just part of a “new Cold War” waged by the U.S. against China.
The problem with that is that it ignores the Xi government’s turn in recent years to a much more aggressive posture toward anyone who challenges it, whether internal or external. That includes the repression of its Muslim Uyghur minority, the murky fate of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, the crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, threats against Taiwan, political kidnapping of foreign citizens, violations of trade agreements, and so on.
The West, on the whole, would have been happy to continue with “business as usual” with Beijing. It’s the Xi government that’s making that increasingly impossible.
With the benefit of hindsight, it would be better if the 2022 Winter Games were being held almost anywhere else but Beijing. But that’s done, and punishing athletes by withdrawing entirely from the Games would be terribly unfair.
At the same time, it’s impossible to imagine a Canadian minister or even lower level official smiling and waving as the Maple Leaf flag is paraded around a stadium in Beijing. So stay home, and watch the athletes compete on TV.