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Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Aug. 31

The Washington Post on sexism in the U.S. military

Nearly eight years ago, the United States opened up all military combat roles to women, clearing a pathway for female service members to join the most elite military forces. But even before the first women qualified to become part of the revered Green Berets or 75th Ranger Regiment, thousands worked in noncombat roles dating as far back as the Revolutionary War. During the war in Afghanistan, women deployed, and one died, working alongside the Green Berets and Army Rangers.

Still, gender biases, and at times outright misogyny, pervade all levels of the Special Operations forces, according to a recent report by the Army Special Operations Command, which aimed to discover what challenges its 2,300 female service members encounter. In response to a survey, one senior enlisted man wrote that women requesting to go to Special Forces don’t do so to capitalize on career opportunities but to look for “a husband, boyfriend or attention.” Another anonymous senior enlisted man said it is “ridiculous” to think women can perform most jobs at the same physical, mental and emotional levels as men. Some threatened to retire before working on a team with a woman. These comments, alas, are not outliers. The report concludes they reflect the sexist mentality of many male soldiers.

Gender integration has long been a problem for the military at large, and the Special Operations forces deserve commendation for taking the lead in investigating and extinguishing these divisions. Especially as the Army begins to increasingly rely upon Special Forces, ensuring they are fair and nondiscriminatory spaces will be vital as the branch continues to face recruitment challenges.

Yet gender bias makes life in the Special Forces unnecessarily difficult for women. Many men wrote they feared that having both men and women on combat teams would anger their wives and degrade team unity. Yet other countries that have integrated teams have not documented difficulties with unit cohesion, and studies in the business sector show that gender-diverse teams make better decisions up to 73 percent of the time.

Particularly troubling is the culture of fear and harassment researchers documented within the Special Forces. Women at multiple military bases reported that other soldiers would bang on their doors in the middle of the night. Soldiers said the master key would be given to anyone who asked without question, and one woman said a male soldier used the key to access her room and leave a pair of high-heel combat boots. A senior female officer told the research team that she works to get her soldiers out of the barracks because they are not safe there.

Female soldiers describe a system that crushes attempts to report cases of sexual harassment. Researchers conducted 48 focus groups. In one, a woman said her officer in charge warned that if she filed a report, it would become how she would “be known throughout the regiment” and admonished her to “quit being a little girl.” Another said she was told her complaint would go nowhere because the offender was “cool” with the higher-ups. Women from one unit were particularly reluctant to discuss sexual harassment reporting experiences, but after some sessions, one participant approached a researcher alone in the bathroom and said she was told “not to rat on anyone during these interviews.”

Focus group participants acknowledged previous or ongoing sexual harassment. Yet only 30 percent of female soldiers reported sexual harassment as a challenge in the researchers’ survey, a number that shocked most women in the small group discussions. Considering the conditions in which women serve, many are likely afraid to speak out.

Women have fought and died for this country alongside men for centuries. The gender bias and abuse still alive within the military are a disservice to the country, but with transparency and targeted efforts that the Army’s Special Operations Command is modeling for the rest, the armed forces can be transformed.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/08/31/special-operations-forces-women-sexual-harassment/

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Sept. 1

The New York Times on the future of U.S. AIDs relief program

At the end of 2001, not long after George W. Bush became president, there were 40 million people across the globe living with H.I.V./AIDS, which was usually a death sentence for those who lacked access to treatment. Most people with H.I.V. lived on the continent of Africa, where 2.3 million died of AIDS that year. There were widespread estimates that 100 million worldwide would die of AIDS in the following 20 years if something wasn’t done to better distribute treatment.

To Mr. Bush’s lasting credit, he did something about it. Working with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, at a time when cross-party cooperation was still happening, he instituted a program that has saved the lives of millions of people who would otherwise have died of AIDS, with broad support from evangelical Christian groups and from the Catholic Church. Twenty years later, that program and its vital work is imperiled by members of a very different Republican Party who are eager to politicize a once-bipartisan issue and exploit the country’s divisions on abortion. And while the Catholic Church maintains its support, many evangelical leaders are now fighting against it.

The program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, was developed by the Bush administration with medical experts like Anthony Fauci and Mark Dybul to get drugs and medical personnel to 15 countries, 12 of them in Africa, and Mr. Bush announced it in his State of the Union address in 2003. Over the next 20 years, PEPFAR became one of the most successful global health programs in modern history, multiplying the number of people on lifesaving treatment by 300 times, from 66,500 in 2004 to more than 20 million people in 54 countries in 2022. It saved 25 million lives and, by preventing mother-to child transmission, allowed 5.5 million babies to be born H.I.V.-free.

Support for the program has long been bipartisan, and many of those who urged the passage of the initial $15 billion expenditure were conservative Republicans or Christian evangelicals, who saw saving lives as part of their religious duty. “In adopting this proposal, we show the world that conviction and compassion go together, as we demonstrate that compassion is not a sign of weakness but of strength,” said Henry Hyde, a leading Republican congressman from Illinois. Dave Weldon, a conservative Republican congressman from Florida, helped sponsor the PEPFAR bill and praised it for allowing religious groups to get federal funds to fight H.I.V.

Both men had long been fervent opponents of abortion. Mr. Hyde wrote a long-lasting federal law, known as the Hyde Amendment, barring the use of any federal funds to pay for abortion, and Mr. Weldon was the author of the Weldon Amendment, a law that allows insurers to refuse to pay for abortions. During the PEPFAR debate, they won assurances in 2003 that the program would never pay for abortions, and there is no evidence that it ever has, since that would violate U.S. law.

But those kinds of promises are not enough for today’s right-wing extremists, who say they believe the Biden administration has a secret plan to use PEPFAR to promote abortions overseas. That’s false, as is the whole premise that abortion has something to do with fighting AIDS. But many of those activists now hold positions of power in the House and are holding up the reauthorization of the program, which is set to expire on Sept. 30. In a polarized climate, they are seeking ways to make even this apolitical, unquestionably effective effort seem partisan, egged on by organizations like the Heritage Foundation that thrive on partisan division.

Early on, there were restrictions on the program imposed by the religious right. The original program required that a third of all prevention money be dedicated to teaching chastity and fidelity, even in countries where transmission was mostly through drug injection. Studies showed that the abstinence effort never worked, but it was seen as a necessary compromise to get conservatives onboard. The abstinence requirement was removed in 2008.

Bipartisan support continued through three reauthorizations of the program. That ended this year, when Republicans took over the House with a slim majority that was beholden to the MAGA wing of the party, which has been looking for opportunities to damage any Biden administration priorities. PEPFAR became a target when the Heritage Foundation released a falsehood-ridden report in May saying the administration was using it as a “vehicle to promote its domestic radical social agenda overseas,” specifically abortion and L.G.B.T.Q. issues.

The report provided no basis for this claim, other than to cite a White House memo on President Biden’s overall efforts “to support women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights in the United States, as well as globally.” Mr. Biden’s only policy move was to reverse a Trump administration policy that prevented federal money from going to any organization fighting AIDS that is also providing counseling on abortion. That is consistent with the position established under Mr. Bush, that the abortion battle had nothing to do with global health.

But the report lit a fire under the most fervent anti-abortion Republicans in Congress, including former supporters of PEPFAR. Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, who sponsored the program’s reauthorization in 2018, wrote a letter to his House colleagues saying the administration’s latest PEPFAR action plan “makes absolutely clear that the new direction of the program includes ‘integrating’ PEPFAR with abortion promotion.” That new direction is nowhere in the report. The White House even added a footnote to the document cited by Mr. Smith to make it explicitly clear that “PEPFAR does not fund abortions, consistent with longstanding legal restrictions on the use of foreign assistance funding related to abortion.”

Mr. Smith and several anti-abortion activist groups say they’re upset that some of the nonprofit groups getting PEPFAR money have separate efforts, not funded by the program, that provide or promote abortion. But that was also the case at the beginning of the program.

With the demise of Roe v. Wade and a resulting backlash among many voters, the far right’s anti-abortion demands have become increasingly outrageous. In the Senate, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama has held up all military promotions for half a year in a one-man crusade against the Pentagon’s policy allowing military personnel to travel to get an abortion.

Turning up the pressure, anti-abortion organizations like Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and the Family Research Council are making a test vote out of the reauthorization of PEPFAR, scoring it as a vote for abortion rights. That means any supporters of the program in its current form won’t get a perfect score on their anti-abortion report card, a threat strong enough to prevent many Republicans from doing the right thing. Mr. Smith and others want to add a policy cutting off AIDS funds to groups that provide abortion counseling, which could send reauthorization to defeat.

A failure to reauthorize PEPFAR wouldn’t kill it outright, unless the House separately refuses to appropriate money for it. But it would eliminate some of the rules that ensure the program’s funds go to the right places. More important, a no vote would send a clear signal to the rest of the world that it could no longer rely on the country to defend its reputation and its biggest accomplishments as a leader in global health. Even a program that once represented the highest ideals of the United States — its compassion, its expertise and its resources — is becoming a casualty of the country’s most destructive and divisive forces.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/01/opinion/pepfar-abortion-republicans.html

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Sept. 4

Wall Street Journal on a green energy bailout

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) includes hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies for green energy, yet now renewable developers want utility rate-payers in New York and other states to bail them out.

According to a report late last month by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (Nyserda), large offshore wind developers are asking for an average 48% price adjustment in their contracts to cover rising costs. The Alliance for Clean Energy NY is also requesting an average 64% price increase on 86 solar and wind projects.

The IRA includes federal tax credits that can offset 50% of a project’s costs. But renewable developers say their costs are increasing faster than inflation and that the projects will “not be economically viable and would be unable to proceed to construction and operation under their existing pricing,” says Nyserda.

Irony alert: One reason is that the government-forced green energy transition is driving up demand for equipment, material and labor. "Growing demand for renewable energy projects nationwide ‘has exacerbated inflation for renewable project cost components relative to broader inflation levels,’” Nyserda says, citing the Alliance for Clean Energy NY.

Green energy developers are blaming Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for increasing demand for renewable energy and its components. But the real culprits are government mandates and subsidies, which they lobbied for. Developers also blame rising interest rates for increasing project costs. But as Nyserda notes, “it does not appear reasonable for developers to have assumed that a low interest rate environment would persist throughout the period in which their projects were to be financed, given that the levels of interest rates witnessed today are indeed precedented.”

The climate lobby says power from wind and solar is cheaper than from fossil fuels, but that’s true only with generous subsidies and near-zero interest rates. Price adjustments that renewable developers want in New York would make solar and wind two- to five-times more expensive than natural gas power.

Another irony: The IRA’s prevailing wage and domestic content conditions for bonus tax credits, which are necessary to make projects viable, inflate costs. That means U.S. taxpayers will pay more for the green corporate welfare, and utility ratepayers will pay more for renewable power. The climate lobby hits you coming and going.

Nyserda adds that “requests for inflationary relief on clean energy projects” have also been submitted in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island, among other states. Electric customers will get no such relief when their bills increase.

Meantime, the computer chip maker Micron Technology recently disclosed that its planned factories in upstate New York, which are set to receive up to $5.5 billion in state subsidies, will consume as much power as New Hampshire and Vermont combined. Where will all the power come from?

Don’t be surprised if the state eventually asks New Yorkers to turn down their thermostats or turn off the lights at some hours of the day. The green energy crunch and bailout are coming.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/green-energy-nyserda-renewable-subsidies-rate-payer-bailout-b807ccb3

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Sept. 3

The Los Angeles Times on U.S. prisons

The purpose of the juvenile justice system in Louisiana is not to punish but to rehabilitate. But dozens of young Louisianans were transferred nearly a year ago to the vacant former death row of the notorious adult maximum security state penitentiary known as Angola, where they have suffered through a summer of record-breaking heat — without air conditioning, according to plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state. As temperatures outside reached triple digits for days, conditions inside the windowless cells became unbearable.

This is not rehabilitation, and it’s not even punishment. It is torture.

Adults are in prison for punishment as well as rehabilitation, but shouldn’t have to endure such conditions any more than teenagers should.

Yet intense heat has so affected imprisoned Louisiana adults that officials have had to step up suicide watches. At the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found indoor temperatures reaching 145 degrees last year. In Texas, where 70% of prison living quarters reportedly lack air conditioning, incarceration becomes execution, as climate change drives already blistering summer temperatures even higher.

One study found an average of 14 heat-related deaths a year in Texas prisons lacking air conditioning, and none in the relatively few prisons with A/C. The state has seen an average of two prison deaths a day this summer, many of them heat-related despite official insistence that the heat is not to blame.

Lack of adequate cooling during hot summers has plagued Southern states for decades, but climate change has now made it a problem in Northern states as well — Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, Indiana. Brutal heat is especially lethal for aging inmates. It exacerbates already challenging mental health problems, which are rampant in prisons. It alters the effects of some medications. It robs people of sleep. It shortens tempers and increases violent behavior.

It turns poorly ventilated concrete-and-steel prisons into heat-retaining ovens that don’t cool down at night. Individual fans bought at prison commissaries merely move the hot air around. Desperate residents describe clogging toilets to let the water run so they can lie in it, or soak their clothes in it, or lay their bedsheets in it.

Staff, too, are affected by the unrelenting heat and are more likely to become ill or to respond aggressively to incidents.

At sweltering, non-air-conditioned public schools, parents can at least take their children out of class. Tenants in non-cooled apartments can, at least in theory, go to the mall or an emergency cooling center during a heat wave.

But people in prison, by definition, cannot escape unbearable heat.

To our shame, it has long been part of American culture to accept or even delight in torturous prison conditions. In Maricopa County, Ariz., former Sheriff Joe Arpaio was treated as a folk hero for keeping jail inmates in tents in the desert amid daily summer temperatures of 120 degrees.

But cruelty is explicitly unconstitutional and not part of acceptable prison treatment, no matter what the individuals did to be sent there. A correctional facility is society’s messenger to convicted criminals about humanity and acceptable standards of conduct; at the very least it should provide minimum standards of humane treatment — safety, security, nutrition, medical care, livable conditions. Their punishment is the loss of their liberty. It is not — or rather, no civilized society should ever allow it to be— gratuitous physical or psychological torment.

Those who still scoff at the notion of treating people in prison humanely should also keep this in mind: Most prisoners will one day go free. They will be our neighbors. Better for our own safety and peace of mind to live next door to a person who learned what humanity looks and feels like, rather than one whose body, mind and spirit were subjected to conditions that we do not permit at animal shelters.

Texas and Louisiana should spend the money to air-condition their prisons. So should every other state. The federal government should offer states incentives to modernize their prison climate systems.

Meanwhile, let’s not be smug in Los Angeles, where jail air conditioning is outdated, and staff have to turn on huge fans to keep the air circulating. And where two people died last winter of suspected hypothermia while thermal underclothes that could have kept them and other inmates warm were withheld.

And let’s also remember that prisoners cannot escape the other ravages of climate change — wildfire smoke, for example, or flooding of the type that briefly threatened the California State Prison at Corcoran this year, on the temporary shore of Tulare Lake.

Prisons cannot operate on the cheap, and climate change is making them even costlier. We will pay, one way or the other — either by making them slightly more humane or by paying wrongful-death verdicts and settlements for accepting the cruel torture of our fellow human beings.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2023-09-03/editorial-prisons-heat-air-conditioning

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Sept. 3

China Daily on dangers of latest U.S. aid package to Ukraine

Among the latest $250-million package of military assistance to Ukraine the US State Department unveiled last week, the depleted uranium munitions that appear on the delivery note for the first time deserve full vigilance.

Not only because of their armor-piercing capacity to destroy heavy tanks but also how Russia might act in response.

Also the possible long-term environmental implications should not be ignored. Depleted uranium is a by-product from the production of fuel used in atomic power stations. Although the radiation levels are significantly reduced and it is employed for its physical, rather than nuclear, properties, if large amounts of the munitions are used in a short time, the radioactive effects they produce cannot be ignored, as many cases show. That’s why both sides have been very cautious on the use of them.

It is the US camp that is breaking that tacit understanding at the cost of turning the Ukraine crisis from bad to worse.

Ukraine received the first batch of uranium munitions from the United Kingdom in March to use in its UK-made Challenger 2 tanks. The risky game-changing move was answered immediately by Moscow vowing to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.

The US’ latest military assistance to Ukraine makes it crystal-clear to all that Washington not only wants to drag on the conflict but also further escalate it.

While the Ukraine crisis is causing tremendous losses for the two countries and beyond, Washington thinks it is one of the best “investments” the US has made to defend its hegemony in history. Spending only 2.5 percent of US defense spending since the conflict broke out in February last year, the US has hit at least three birds with one stone. Compared with one and a half years ago, with such limited input, it has markedly weakened Russia, effectively tightened its grip on Europe, and perceptibly exploited the situation to advance its China containment strategy in the Asia-Pacific.

The “Ukraine investment” has served to reinforce the US’ leadership of the West. Not to mention the fact that a significant part of that “investment” represents funds absorbed by the military industry in the US and its allies leaving the amount going directly to Ukraine relatively minor. The longer the crisis is sustained in the direction it desires, the more the US stands to profit from it.

The US and its allies should be reminded that if Russia acts reciprocally, which is almost a certainty, the situation will take a critical turn for the worse.

Thanks to the tremendous mediatory efforts made by China and some other third-party countries, including Brazil and Indonesia, over the past few months, the conflict so far has not changed its track to a nuclear one. More countries need to join them in promoting an end to the conflict sooner rather than later.

ONLINE: https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202309/03/WS64f455d7a310d2dce4bb3a01.html