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Editorial Roundup: US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Aug. 30

The Washington Post on Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder:

Just when you think there is nothing more Washington Football Team owner Daniel Snyder can do to debase what was once a winning, well-run and, yes, cherished sports franchise, there come disgusting new revelations. This time, it is the disclosure that the team’s broadcast department secretly produced tawdry videos of outtakes of a cheerleader photo shoot, allegedly for the enjoyment of Mr. Snyder and other male executives. The video — along with new allegations from more women who say they were exploited while working for the team and a customarily dismissive response from Mr. Snyder — underscores the need for the National Football League to conduct its own investigation and take appropriate action.

An explosive article by Post reporters detailed how revealing shots of cheerleaders who had posed for calendars — what one team executive called “the good bits” — were spliced together without the women’s knowledge and later burned onto a DVD titled “For Executive Meeting.” The Post, which previously reported allegations from 17 women about a pattern of sexual harassment at the organization, said 25 additional women have stepped forward with claims of being marginalized, discriminated against and harassed. For the first time, one woman alleged misconduct directly by Mr. Snyder — a claim he has denied along with any knowledge of the videos.

Team executives who were implicated in The Post’s first report were either fired or abruptly retired. Mr. Snyder vowed a change in culture, retained a D.C. law firm to conduct an independent investigation and brought on board Jason Wright, a former NFL player and business executive, as president of the team and local television, as well as Julie Donaldson to be the new senior vice president for media. The moves — along with Mr. Snyder’s capitulation to the need to change the team’s name — were seen as steps in the right direction.

But if, as Mr. Snyder promised, there were going to be a new era of transparency and accountability, why did he decline to answer questions about the videos (which had been provided to reporters by former employees) or the new allegations? And why was his first impulse after the article was published to label it “a hit job”? A subsequent statement from the team, calling the allegations “deeply distressing,” was a clear attempt at damage control. The question the NFL and the other team owners need to ask is how long do they want to have to clean up for Mr. Snyder?


Aug. 30

The Wall Street Journal on the Portland protests

The violent protests of the last three months in Portland, Ore., escalated on Saturday night into a right-left confrontation that resulted in one man shot dead in the streets. This is what happens when political leaders fail to perform the most basic responsibility of government to protect innocent lives and property.

The main failure here lies with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Gov. Kate Brown, who have consistently indulged the rioters. Every night for more than 90 days, Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters have demonstrated in Portland. Many are peaceful, but a hard core have repeatedly attacked police and burned buildings.

When President Trump sent federal law enforcement agents to Portland this summer to protect federal buildings, the mayor and Governor blamed Mr. Trump for the violent clashes. But when federal agents stood down, the violence continued against Portland police and property. On Friday Mr. Wheeler issued an open letter rejecting Mr. Trump’s latest offer of federal help to restore order.

“We don’t need your politics of division and demagoguery. Portlanders are onto you. We have already seen your reckless disregard for human life in your bumbling response to the COVID pandemic. And we know you’ve reached the conclusion that images of violence or vandalism are your only ticket to reelection,” Mr. Wheeler wrote.

Yet his city is the one burning and where someone has now been killed. Mr. Wheeler, Gov. Brown and state lawmakers have hamstrung police by limiting anti-riot tactics. At a Sunday press conference the Portland police chief said his department lacked the resources to separate the fighting factions, but the feckless Mr. Wheeler offered little more than a plea against violence and rhetoric about reform to address racial injustice.

That hasn’t stopped Democrats from blaming Mr. Trump for the violence, as they did all day Sunday. Democrats spent their convention never mentioning the urban violence, but after the Kenosha riots and the GOP convention, this has become a political liability. So they’re pivoting to blame Mr. Trump and claim that “his America” is causing it. As if Trump supporters belong to Antifa and dominate U.S. cities. ....

Mr. Trump should tell his supporters to stay away from Portland, Kenosha, Wis., and other cities where rioters reign. ...

Vigilantism isn’t the cause of the current urban violence, but it could become one result of the failure to control violence. Americans have watched for weeks as rioters burned and looted businesses that people spent a lifetime building. Yet mayors like Ted Wheeler have let it happen. Inevitably, average citizens will move to defend themselves if elected officials won’t protect them. The proper place to do that is at the ballot box, however, not in the streets with guns.


Aug. 29

The New York Times on college football:

For more than six months now, many workers deemed essential have had to strap on face masks for shifts at meatpacking plants, Walmarts, grocery stores, hardware stores and restaurants. It is a necessary sacrifice for the nation’s well-being. But at universities across the country, while scores of professors, staff and students start the academic year remotely to curb the spread of the coronavirus, another class of worker will be asked to strap on protective gear to do their job — without the face coverings: college football players.

Never has the inaccuracy of the term “student-athlete” been put in starker relief than in the misguided and dangerous attempt by the Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference to press forward with a nearly full season of football games beginning next month — as nonathlete classmates are sent home for their safety. For many college competitors, but for football in particular, the demands of practice and travel can exceed those of a full-time job. The players do it all, however, for no pay — while schools, coaches, television networks and the conferences profit.

Saturday afternoon college football is a way of life for millions of Americans. But the players — and make no mistake, the young people who play for these teams are workers, helping to generate billions in revenue collectively for their universities — are not essential in the middle of a pandemic that has already taken nearly 200,000 lives in the United States. The health and future of college players deserve far more consideration than they’ve gotten thus far from their coaches, their fans and the presidents of their universities.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences, whose members include powerhouses like the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California, this month decided to suspend their coming football seasons until it is prudent for players to return to a sport that is impossible to play while staying six feet apart.

Until there is such a thing as a socially distanced quarterback sack, the other three so-called Power 5 conferences ought to follow suit. ....

President Trump and a number of lawmakers, including Senators Marco Rubio and Ben Sasse and Representative Jim Jordan, have called for college football to return in the face of overwhelming evidence that doing so is a bad idea. The SEC’s University of Alabama, for example, sent more than 500 students home for testing positive just days into the semester’s start.

“The clear advice from our medical professionals made the choice obvious to us that we couldn’t hold a football season,” Larry Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner, said. “We have a responsibility to protect our players, and given what we still don’t know about the spread of the virus, we simply couldn’t play football and look parents in the eye and say, ‘We’ve got your kids’ best interests in mind.’” ....

The excitement of the football season (not to mention countless other aspects of pre-pandemic American life) would be welcome after months of shelter-in-place orders. But with the U.S. death toll continuing to rise and infections exceeding 5.7 million, players and other students contracting the virus as a result of an ill-advised college football season is not a likelihood — it’s a certainty. ...


Aug. 27

The Los Angles Times on the NBA strike:

For a moment, the games stopped.

With the most sought-after prize in basketball at stake, the biggest stars of the NBA on Wednesday said they would not take the court. The Milwaukee Bucks — whose home arena is not far from Kenosha, Wis., where a young Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot multiple times in the back by a white police officer — decided they would not play. The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets followed suit. The Lakers and their opponent that night, the Portland Trail Blazers, refused to play as well. And shortly after, the Lakers’ LeBron James, arguably the best basketball player of his era, took to Twitter: “WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”

How else to burst through the bizarre bubble in Orlando, Fla., that literally and figuratively encases the players’ lives and games these days, keeping them safe from the coronavirus but removed from real life? How else to grab fans’ attention, so lavished on their highlight dunks and three-point shots, and focus it instead on the injustice, the unrelenting violence that people of color face every day even in the midst of a so-called racial reckoning? How else to reach the masses of Americans who tune in to games but not to the problems confronting Black Americans?

This is what you have to do when wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t get the message across, even when you’re famous. After the NBA stopped the playoffs, a cascade of athletes in other sports stopped playing. When the star power hitter Mookie Betts told his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates that he wasn’t going to play Wednesday against the San Francisco Giants, his teammates joined him and the game was canceled. As Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said in a press conference over Zoom: “This is a human being issue.”

Players also forced the cancellation of Major League Baseball games involving the Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners. Three WNBA games were suspended, as were five Major League Soccer matches. Several NFL teams canceled practices. Naomi Osaka, a top-ranked tennis player and a woman of color, temporarily withdrew from a tournament in solidarity.

And all this happened on the fourth anniversary of the day that a reporter first noticed Colin Kaepernick sitting, not standing, during the national anthem. Days later he would take a knee in protest of racial injustice. That was a lonely, costly and even dangerous decision for him to make. This time, a collective of the most influential athletes in the country, possibly the world, took a stand together to stay off courts and out of stadiums. Not since Muhammad Ali gave up his heavyweight belt in 1967 and risked going to prison for his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War have athletes made such a powerful statement. To take the platform that they command and tell not just fans but politicians and officials that injustice can no longer be tolerated is a message that can’t be ignored.

The Bucks called on the Wisconsin Legislature to reconvene. “When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable,” the Bucks’ George Hill said, reading from a statement by the players. “We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment we are demanding the same from lawmakers and law enforcement.”

Few Black people command the undivided attention of millions like the Black players who compose 75% of the NBA. Whether fans will understand the message behind the move or simply resent the cancellation of a hotly anticipated playoff game, that’s a risk that these players took Wednesday (and Thursday, when more teams postponed games).

Predictably, President Trump dismissed the move and accused the NBA of becoming “a political organization.” His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the ultimate child of privilege and wealth, snidely remarked in a television interview that it was easy for wealthy players to take a night off. It may have been a night off from playing but it was hardly a night off from being Black men, or from feeling a responsibility to use their clout to try to change a society where white officers gun down people who share the players’ skin color.

Yes, there’s some anger behind this kind of protest, but there’s more anguish. His voice breaking with emotion, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday: “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back.” That’s a heartbreak that everyone should try to understand.

The NBA said Thursday it would resume playoff games Friday or Saturday. We wish the players could stay off the court until all law enforcement officers acted as if Black lives mattered, or at least until sports fans across the country recognized the problem of systemic racism and took it upon themselves to solve it. But, then, who knows when the NBA would ever play again.


Aug. 27

The Chicago Tribune on Kyle Rittenhouse and the Wisconsin protests:

This much we can say with certainty: A 17-year-old visibly armed with a semi-automatic rifle in the thick of a violent protest is a powder keg by itself. Kyle Rittenhouse of Antioch has been arrested and charged as an adult so far in connection with two deaths in Kenosha.

This much we also can say: The tragedy that unfolded was avoidable.

There was a heavy law enforcement presence in Kenosha late Tuesday and into Wednesday. There was a curfew in place. There were demonstrators defying the curfew, breaking glass with hammers, and setting buildings and vehicles on fire. And there were groups of armed citizens standing guard, at least some of whom were self-organized in what they called the Kenosha Guard.

In the middle of it was Rittenhouse, earlier seen being interviewed on camera, rifle dangling near his side, speaking with confidence about his “job” and responsibilities. “People are getting injured. Our job is to protect this business,” he said in footage compiled by The New York Times.

Another video posted on Twitter from the account @ElijahSchaffer of BlazeTV, a conservative outlet, shows what appeared to be a protester pulling a handgun out of his pants pocket and aiming it at cameras.

Some people at the protests were peaceful. Some were armed and angry. That’s a powder keg, too.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the shootings and their aftermath, whether Rittenhouse was in Kenosha on his own or belonged to a group. Wisconsin allows the open carry of weapons, which gives citizens the right to be armed in many public places. Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said he was asked to deputize armed citizens to assist with law enforcement during the protests, to which he replied: “Oh hell no.” Rightly.

But let’s be clear: Individuals can arm themselves to protect private property in the state of Wisconsin. They can do it here, too, with proper registration. During on-and-off looting in Chicago and surrounding communities this summer, some business owners and groups organized to stave off further looting. Illinois is not an open carry state, but it does allow concealed carry for gun owners who undergo training and background checks, a change in state law forced by court challenge and carried out by a Democratic legislature.

According to at least one report, gun sales this year are up an estimated 72% nationally compared with this time last year, the Washington Times reported, a reflection of growing insecurity in safety across the country and in several demographic groups.

The problem with armed militias, though, should be an obvious one: They’re not trained as law enforcement personnel and should have no role assisting police during a riot. Standing guard by invitation at a car dealership is different from patrolling the streets. The first may be acceptable in emergency situations; the second is dangerous and irresponsible.

And the fact that Rittenhouse, age 17, was there at all with a loaded weapon presented a grave risk to everyone. He was too young to open carry, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He was violating curfew. He was too inexperienced to act as armed security. He reportedly had an infatuation with law enforcement but had no legitimate reason to be on the streets with a rifle that night.

And so: Just as we should expect legitimate, peaceful protesters in cities across the country to police themselves — to assume some responsibility when rioters invade their midst and begin engaging violently with police — we should expect self-described militia organizations to obey the law, respect the role of law enforcement, police themselves — and assume some responsibility for rogue vigilantes who join their cause.

Plenty went wrong in Kenosha this week. The result has been tragic.


Aug. 25

The Guardian on Alexei Navalny's poisoning:

For anyone needing a reminder, the high price of political opposition within Vladimir Putin’s sphere of influence has been all too apparent this week. The leader of the Belarusian democracy movement, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, remains in exile in Lithuania, as President Alexander Lukashenko keeps in close touch with Moscow on the phone and rounds up opponents in Minsk. Meanwhile, Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader and thorn in Mr Putin’s side, lies in a medically induced coma having almost certainly been poisoned, according to the German doctors treating him.

Mr Navalny was flown to Berlin at the request of his family, after falling ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow last week. As the medical team at the Charité hospital gave its diagnosis, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, called for a full and transparent investigation by Russian authorities and demanded that those responsible be brought to justice. She will not be holding her breath. Last year, Ms Merkel directly confronted Mr Putin over the killing of another political opponent in Berlin. Two Russian diplomats were eventually expelled after Moscow refused to cooperate with the German investigation. The Russian state agents charged with the novichok poisoning of the former spy, Sergei Skripal, in Salisbury, are safely back in Russia and will almost certainly never face trial.

Mr Navalny’s bravery in prosecuting his anti-corruption crusade over the last decade cannot be overstated. He has been imprisoned on 13 occasions for organising anti-Putin protests, has endured physical attacks and was hospitalised after a mysterious “allergic attack” last year. The day before he collapsed last week, a group of young supporters reportedly asked him: “Why aren’t you dead yet?” Thankfully, although Mr Navalny’s long-term prognosis remains unclear, it seems likely he will survive this grim episode.

In Belarus, enormous levels of civic courage are also in evidence, as protests against Mr Lukashenko’s effective dictatorship continue into a third week after the rigged election of 9 August. On Sunday, for the second successive weekend, vast crowds turned out on the streets of Minsk, defying security forces who President Lukashenko had ordered to “solve the problem”. But the arrests yesterday of two opposition leaders suggest the regime intends to pick off prominent critics and tough things out until numbers drop and a crackdown can take place. Over the weekend, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, indicated the Kremlin’s backing for the president, claiming that Ms Tikhanovskaya’s movement was seeking to provoke “bloodshed” in Belarus.

The disregard for democracy and civil rights in Russia and Belarus is clear. What the west, and the European Union in particular, can do in response is more complex. The EU has refused to recognise the Belarusian election result and will impose sanctions on those involved in orchestrating electoral fraud and repression. It is understandably reluctant to go further, for fear of vindicating claims in Moscow and Minsk that the protests are a convenient vehicle for western interests. But in the event of more bloody repression, or a direct Russian intervention, more robust action may be unavoidable.

Relations with Mr Putin have been close to freezing since the Skripal poisoning, but Mr Navalny himself has called for better-targeted sanctions on figures close to Mr Putin with connections to the west. Ms Merkel’s backing of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany is also likely to come under renewed scrutiny in light of ongoing events.

These are not easy matters to assess when the wrong move could be damagingly counter-productive. Europe will need to continue to deal and engage with Russia. In Belarus, it may be that mediation by the neutral Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe becomes the appropriate avenue to lobby towards. But sitting on the sidelines as civil rights are trampled with impunity cannot be an option.


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