Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Toronto Star on Glasgow climate summit and the credibility of governments:
As we noted on Friday, the prospects for COP26, the United Nations climate conference that opens on Oct. 31 in Glasgow, are bleak.
Yet the mounting consensus points to the international summit as being the most crucial global gathering at least since the Paris Agreement of 2015.
Two points help explain why.
The first is that the goal of slashing emissions to zero by mid-century – the Net Zero by 2050 target – has too often had the sleepy effect of giving governments and industry license to set long-term goals when short-term urgency is required.
The second is that the winds of political change can blow a country so far off course in its commitments that it struggles to reclaim credibility on the climate crisis.
The two are intertwined as the crushing developments in the United States demonstrate. By the time then-president Donald Trump announced in 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, his administration had already been hard at work tearing apart his predecessor’s climate action policies. Out went the Clean Power Plan, by example, which could have cut power plant emissions by a third by 2030. And into the trash went the United States’ fledgling reputation on the climate action stage.
President Joe Biden moved quickly, administratively that is. In rejoining the Paris Agreement he reclaimed his country’s professed commitment to address climate change at home and abroad. But a report this week from the International Institute for Sustainable Development helps illustrate the impact of time lost: the world’s governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the Paris Agreement. Specifically, U.S. oil production is forecast to increase 17 per cent from 2019 levels while gas production is set to rise by 12 per cent.
The U.S. remains the world’s largest oil and gas producer. Biden has pledged to cut his country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, using 2005 levels as the baseline. So the goal is clear; the pathway not so much.
That’s the tripwire. Promises are one thing; legislative action is quite another.
At week’s end Biden was still trying to salvage his once $3.5-trillion (U.S.) Build Back Better legislation that has been whittled to a $2-trillion spending package that includes the administration’s action plan on climate change.
It had been the president’s aim to swoop into Glasgow, with special climate envoy John Kerry at his side, as a world-leading climate change crusader having passed the most robust climate change legislation in U.S. history. Instead, he faces fierce opposition from a coal-country Democratic senator who refuses to support a piece of the legislation called the Clean Energy Performance Program. The senator’s home state of West Virginia still derives 90 per cent of its electricity from coal.
The upshot? Biden may head to Scotland empty-handed.
At least Biden will be there. The odds are against Chinese President Xi Jinping attending COP26 at all. Xi did strike a progressive note in December when he said that in meeting the climate challenge, “no one can be aloof and unilateralism will get us nowhere.” Yet China’s goal of peaking carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and only then starting to move toward carbon neutrality by 2060, is laggardly for the world’s largest emitter of atmospheric gases.
The majority of China’s domestic energy needs are still met by coal, Chinese banks fund the lion’s share of international coal-fired plants – Xi announced in September that such financing will cease — and the future of new coal plant startups in China remains unclear. At present, coal production in the country is firing on all cylinders to meet a power shortage. That’s disconcerting given UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ recent statement that “accelerating the global phase-out of coal is the single most important step to keep the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement within reach.”
Xi announced last spring that China would start phasing out coal in 2025. Again, critics point to the absence of step-by-step goals.
It is no longer alarmist to state that the future of humanity hangs in the balance. The present path leads, in the words of the secretary-general, to a “catastrophic” endpoint.
If future climate summits are to have any credibility at all, the Glasgow crowd will have to announce tightened timelines and concrete agendas in their climate action plans, awkwardly named Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs. In a synthesis of NDCs submitted by the middle of last month the UN forecast a 16-per-cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 compared to 2010.
Surprising? Not really. What else should we expect from a fragmented and, yes, unilateral approach to a collective crisis.
The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer on questions about N.C. Rep. Madison Cawthorn and Jan. 6:
Followers of former President Donald Trump have found one conspiracy theory they don’t like: That some Republican members of Congress may have had deeper roles in plans and events that led to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
One reason they don’t like it is that — unlike the bizarre theories of QAnon, the baseless notions of rampant voter fraud and suspicions about COVID vaccines — the concern that members of Congress may have had a hand in efforts to overturn the election appears to be backed by evidence.
Rolling Stone reported on Sunday that two organizers of the Jan. 6 protests have told congressional investigators that “multiple members of Congress were intimately involved in planning both Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss and the Jan. 6 events that turned violent.”
Rolling Stone said the organizers, speaking anonymously, named seven Republican members of Congress who joined, either directly or through their staffers, in the effort to overturn the election. Republican North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn was among those named.
Cawthorn spokesman Luke Ball dismissed the report on Monday, saying, “These anonymous accusations are complete garbage. Neither the congressman nor his staff had advance knowledge of what transpired at the Capitol on January 6th or participated in any alleged ‘planning process.’”
That Cawthorn was named is hardly a surprise. He spoke at the Jan. 6 rally near the White House where he said, “The Democrats, with all the fraud they have done in this election, the Republicans, hiding and not fighting, they are trying to silence your voice.”
Since then, Cawthorn has suggested that another contested election may require taking up arms. “When tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes your duty,” he told a Republican group.
Cawthorn’s remarks are not the only embarrassment for North Carolina. The Rolling Stone report also suggests deep involvement in the Jan. 6 events by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a former Republican congressman who preceded Cawthorn in North Carolina’s 11th District. And then there is the shameless behavior of Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation, who opposed formation of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 events.
Republican links to the Capitol attack are not limited to Republicans in Washington. ProPublica reported last week that at least two Republican members of the North Carolina General Assembly are members of the Oath Keepers, a militant group whose members were among the instigators of the Jan. 6 violence. Meanwhile, WRAL reported that Gaston County Republican Donnie Loftis — the Republicans’ choice to replace the late state Rep. Dana Bumgardner — joined the “Stop the Steal Rally” outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. He was close enough that he “got gassed three times,” according to what WRAL said is a since-deleted Loftis Facebook post.
Anyone who truly cares about democracy knows it is threatened by the authoritarian instincts of Trump and his followers, and by Republicans who are too timid to stand against that threat. Elected officials like Cawthorn are not simply zealots or cranks. They are the start of what could become an anti-democratic wave that would have a white and wealthy minority preside over the nation against the popular will.
The Rolling Stone report adds new urgency to the work of the House select committee investigating who and what drove the events of Jan. 6, and what must be done to end the smoldering danger to our democracy.
Even one of the organizers of the Jan. 6 rally now realizes that urgency. They told Rolling Stone: “The reason I’m talking to the committee and the reason it’s so important is that — despite Republicans refusing to participate … this commission’s all we got as far as being able to uncover the truth about what happened at the Capitol that day. It’s clear that a lot of bad actors set out to cause chaos.”
Now the committee must uncover who those bad actors are — and how many of them are from North Carolina.
The Boston Globe on State Department confirmations, Senate inaction:
Donald Trump spent the four years of his presidency hollowing out the State Department. Now, as Joe Biden attempts to once again make the United States a player on the world stage, Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are continuing the mission of decimating this nation’s foreign policy apparatus.
Their weapon of choice is the Senate’s own arcane confirmation process. The consequences of their separate but equally devastating political vendettas is a scandalous backlog of high-ranking State Department officials and ambassadors now stuck in confirmation limbo.
Nine months into the Biden administration, the Senate has confirmed only two ambassadors — Ken Salazar to Mexico and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as US ambassador to the United Nations. As of Tuesday, 79 other nominees to various positions at the State Department, including dozens of ambassadorships, were still pending.
Among those is that of former Massachusetts House majority leader Claire Cronin to be US ambassador to Ireland and Victoria Reggie Kennedy, widow of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, to be ambassador to Austria — two of the 30 nominees approved by voice vote in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Tuesday. Others included new ambassadors to Israel, Canada, and the European Union.
With Biden scheduled to make his second foreign trip early next month to Europe, getting key players in place takes on added importance. The administration has also this week agreed in principle to a virtual meeting between Biden and President Xi Jinping of China before the year is out — with an agenda that includes tensions over Taiwan, trade, a recently fired hypersonic missile, and human rights abuses. But thus far the nomination of longtime State Department veteran Nicholas Burns to be US ambassador to China is still pending.
These are no small matters to be held hostage to the political agendas of two individuals. Cruz is refusing to allow the nominations to go forward by the usual unanimous consent route because he wants to halt the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would carry natural gas under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, thus bypassing US ally Ukraine. Cruz wants sanctions imposed on the Russian-backed company building the pipeline — sanctions the Biden administration has waived as a gesture to another valued ally, Germany.
Yes, foreign policy is often complicated, but not in Ted Cruz-world. And he doesn’t care if he has to bring the State Department to its knees to make his point.
Hawley’s “cause” is the disastrous nature of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. He’s vowing to hold up every State and Defense Department nominee until heads roll in both those places — the heads of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, among others.
The State Department is not Cruz’s only target either. The US Treasury has only four confirmed nominees of about 20 high-ranking jobs critical to the administration’s ability to tackle the global minimum tax that is slated to be the topic of upcoming talks and the issue of terrorism and financial intelligence, which becomes critical in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Yes, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer could bring each and every nomination to the floor of the Senate for a full-scale debate and vote — a process that would take time away from critical votes on the debt ceiling, the infrastructure bill, and the myriad day-to-day issues of governing.
According to a tracking system set up by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Services and The Washington Post to track 803 of the 1,200 posts requiring Senate confirmation, as of this week, 399 Biden nominees have been approved. However, that leaves 224 still stuck in the Senate.
No, this is no way to conduct the people’s business. But then, when has Ted Cruz ever cared about the people’s business. His conduct and that of Hawley are nothing short of shameless showboating, with potentially disastrous consequences.
But when a system can be rendered dysfunctional by two men, then it’s also time to look at changing the system. Part of that would mean dealing with the number of confirmations required. If hundreds can be dealt with by unanimous consent, it’s likely they shouldn’t have to go through the Senate at all. While the Senate is usually loathe to relinquish any power, it did do so in the 1980s when it cut back on the number of posts subject to a Senate vote. At the time, some 3,500 civilian jobs were subject to Senate confirmation
So nothing is impossible. However, those 200-plus nominees being held hostage by Cruz and Hawley need a more immediate solution — and that means pressure, particularly from their GOP colleagues. Someone needs to convince these two that their conduct represents a clear and present danger to this nation’s security and its place in the world.
The Houston Chronicle on the WNBA and vaccination rates:
Can’t find a role model when it comes to getting workers vaccinated against COVID-19 without a mandate? Maybe you’ve been looking in the wrong places.
Sunday’s conclusion of the dramatic WNBA playoffs offers a pointed reminder not only of the growing success of the women’s pro basketball league, but also of its triumph way back in June in getting 99 percent of players fully and voluntarily vaccinated.
In recent months, other leagues have played catch-up. The Houston Rockets’ 100 percent vaccination rate certainly deserves praise. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that 96 percent of all NBA players had received at least one shot while the NFL’s one-shot rate was 94 percent. Among the leagues disclosing rates of fully vaccinated players, the NHL has climbed above 99 percent while Major League Baseball reports 87.4 percent.
But holdouts such as Brooklyn Nets star point guard Kyrie Irving, whose refusal to get the shot has rendered him unable to play due to New York City’s vaccine requirements, are still making headlines.
We applaud the WNBA for leading the way.
If you missed the playoff excitement, we’re happy to provide a little recap: With two minutes left in the game and a league championship on the line Sunday afternoon, Chicago Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot dribbled through the paint, looked to her left and found her teammate, hoops legend Candace Parker, open just beyond the three-point line. As Parker let the shot fly, thousands of mostly masked fans raised their arms hopefully and tracked the ball as it flew through the air.
“You bet!” exclaimed ESPN announcer Ryan Ruocco as Parker’s 3 fell through the net and tied the game at 72, sending the capacity crowd — including Chicago dignitary Chance the Rapper — into a frenzied celebration. The Sky went on to beat the Phoenix Mercury 80-74 to claim their first WNBA title, and on Tuesday the city closed down Michigan Avenue for the victory parade as thousands came out to fête the city’s newest champions.
We’re celebrating the end of the season all the way down here in Houston, because it’s a big deal that the women’s hoops league has now capped off 25 seasons with a strong fan base, rising ratings and, judging by WNBA players’ Twitter action over the past couple of weeks, a growing toehold in the culture.
Yet the league’s biggest success came in June, when it announced that players had achieved nearly perfect buy-in to the vaccine. How it accomplished this, without a mandate, is worth spending a little chalk on. Mandates are necessary in places, and have proven to help save lives. But no one in Texas needs reminding that many here still resist them. So what can we learn from the WNBA’s playbook on vaccine persuasion?
Its approach, featured recently in Sports Illustrated and USA Today, included one-on-one conversations with players to gauge their vaccine concerns and hear their questions, followed by Zoom calls for groups of players to talk directly with public health experts.
League officials made an additional strategic decision: They connected the call to get vaccinated around the player-led push for social justice and racial equity in 2020.
“If Black Lives Matter is what we’re about, then in the public health space, this is really big for Black and brown communities,” Terri Jackson, executive director of the WNBA players association, told Sports Illustrated. Jackson said the union scheduled individual conversations with players a year ago to gauge vaccination comfort levels and took note of fears players had so they could circle back to them with the help of medical researchers. The subsequent panel discussions, held early in 2021, featured discussions with OBGYNs about fertility questions and women of color to talk with the majority-Black league.
Washington Mystics forward Alysha Clark, who was initially skeptical about getting vaccinated, told Sports Illustrated that the league’s approach — to take concerns seriously and address misinformation head-on without shaming those who were on the fence — helped persuade her to get the shots.
“Those conversations with those medical professionals are what helped me get over the hump,” Clark said.
It’s easy to be frustrated with those who haven’t gotten vaccinated yet. Yet they shouldn’t be written off as merely stubborn. Every day, previously reluctant people make the brave, necessary choice to get vaccinated. Every time someone does, our society gets a little bit safer — which makes the hard work worth it.
Numbers of COVID-19 cases related to the delta surge have mercifully trended downward this month. But we’re not out of the woods.
Persuading the unvaccinated to get the shot, and urging others to get their boosters, remains life-saving work. Thanks to the WNBA for setting an example that other organizations, companies and our own families can follow.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune on Boundary Waters wilderness and copper mine:
It’s unlikely that many Minnesotans read a recent Miami Herald special report on a Chilean village’s battle to restore a river’s natural flow after a copper mine opened nearby. That’s a shame, because it’s an alarming account of how elusive accountability and solutions are when problems occur and a powerful mining conglomerate wants to protect profits.
Los Pelambres is the name of the copper mine. The village is called Caimanes. Neither of those is likely familiar to Minnesotans, but the firm that owns Los Pelambres should be. It’s Antofagasta, controlled by the wealthy Luksic family. Antofagasta owns Twin Metals Minnesota, which aims to open a 20,000-ton-per-day underground copper mine within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) watershed.
The $1.7 billion project would be perched on a lake draining into the fragile watery wilderness. That proximity demands caution to prevent pollution and other problems potentially impossible to fix. That’s why this week’s decision by the Biden administration to restart an environmental analysis of copper mining’s impact on the BWCA watershed is welcome.
The study, when complete, could lead to a 20-year moratorium on mining on more than 224,000 acres of federal land near the BWCA. Its findings also could help persuade Congress to permanently strengthen mining protections for the watershed, an outcome that should be championed by the state’s congressional delegation.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board’s 2019 “Not this mine, not this location” special report pointed out that Congress had passed permanent mining protections for federal land near Yellowstone National Park and argued that the BWCA deserves the same consideration. The report also detailed maneuvering by the Trump administration to speed up approvals on the Minnesota project.
A key part of that strategy: halting a two-year study begun during the Obama administration of the industry’s impact on the BWCA watershed. The two-year analysis was just months from completion but its findings were kept secret, raising a red flag about risks possibly uncovered.
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and Rep. Betty McCollum, both Minnesota Democrats, commendably called to complete the study. Their leadership has had an impact. The decision to do so also reflects Minnesotans’ commitment to protecting the BWCA. In a 2020 poll, 60% of those polled statewide opposed new mining near the federally protected wilderness. Just 22% supported it.
Restarting the study was wrongheadedly derided by some this week as a “political stunt.” The reality is that it rectifies the brazen interference by the Trump administration to tilt the process in Antofagasta’s favor.
Gov. Tim Walz should also act and halt state-level review of Twin Metals while the federal review is underway. The federal findings could deny the project a key third lease critical to its future. It would be a waste of state taxpayer-funded resources to evaluate a mining plan dependent on a lease that could be denied.
In a statement, Twin Metals said it remains “dedicated to the communities of northeast Minnesota and to advancing a sustainable mining project that will bring much-needed economic growth to our region” as well as “responsibly develop” minerals needed for renewable energy.
That statement ignores the project’s risks to area businesses and jobs dependent on pristine resources. The Miami Herald report also serves as a timely reminder of how difficult it is to hold a powerful international corporation accountable if mining damage occurs.
Restarting the federal study to understand the risks to this irreplaceable wilderness is the careful stewardship the BWCA deserves.
The Wall Street Journal on holding Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress:
The challenge in polarized political times is to keep your eye on democratic institutions and their proper authority. That’s the reason to applaud the nine House Republicans who voted last week to hold Steve Bannon, the sometime Donald Trump counselor, in contempt for defying a Congressional subpoena.
The subpoena was issued by the special committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and there are no doubt some partisan motives at play. Speaker Nancy Pelosi hopes the committee will find evidence to back up her claim that the riot was part of a larger plot to stage an “insurrection.” If so, it was the dumbest coup attempt in history, but the committee wants to ask Mr. Bannon about his role.
Mr. Bannon’s claim of executive privilege has no legal merit. The Supreme Court has said the privilege applies to conversations with a President performing the responsibilities of his office or making policy or decisions. Mr. Bannon left the White House staff in the summer of 2017. He has no immunity as a private citizen who may have spoken with then President Trump.
The House voted to hold him in criminal contempt, 229-202, with all but nine Republicans in opposition. Congress has referred the contempt citation to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution.
The U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia will have to decide whether to prosecute, and doing so would save Congress’s enforcement power from becoming a dead letter. That power has withered in recent decades as members of both parties have refused to cooperate with Congressional investigations.
Republicans held official Lois Lerner in contempt in their probe of IRS bias, but Justice never prosecuted. We count at least four times in recent years that Congress made criminal contempt referrals, and none was prosecuted. If Mr. Bannon becomes another, everyone will assume that Congressional subpoenas have no force.
One Member of Congress who seems to get this is Rep. Nancy Mace, the first-term Republican from Charleston, S.C. She voted against impeaching Mr. Trump twice. But she voted to hold Mr. Bannon in contempt on grounds that she wants a subpoena to mean something when Republicans are in the majority, as they could be as soon as 2023. Partisanship should matter less on this point than the preservation of Congress’s power to investigate issues and the executive branch.
Congress also has its own inherent contempt power and could jail Mr. Bannon on its own until he testifies. Had the GOP taken that step against Ms. Lerner, the House special committee would be in a stronger position today.
Mr. Bannon has a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself if he does testify. But he doesn’t have the right to defy a subpoena with impunity. President Biden blundered when he interfered with a prosecutorial decision by saying publicly that Justice should prosecute Mr. Bannon. Mr. Biden has since admitted his mistake.
Either Congress itself or Justice has good reason to vindicate Congress’s subpoena power under Article I. Republicans will be grateful when they’re back in power.