Five Best Tuesday Columns

On Russia's rigged justice, marginalizing climate change and more

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Joe Nocera on the Russian Justice System In anticipation of Mikhal Khodorkovsky's and Platon Lebedev's imminent verdicts in Moscow City Court today, Joe Nocera reminds New York Times readers that, "when someone starts making trouble for Russia's premier, Vladimir Putin...the ending never varies: the defendants wind up in prison for crimes they never committed." Khodorkovsky, he explains, is the perfect example. His adherence to "the rules of Western capitalism" with his company Yukos--"the country's biggest oil producer"--and his financial support of opposition candidates, took him "from being Russia's richest being its most prominent political prisoner" in less than 10 years. Today's "hearing is no more real than anything else in this case," Nocera points out. "Not long after the original trial judge read his verdict, one of his aides said publicly that he had been under constant pressure from his superiors to find the two men guilty. And who were these superiors? The judges of the Moscow City Court — the very ones who are now sitting in judgment today."

Bret Stephens on Obama's Israel Contradictions  President Obama showed contempt for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when speaking at Aipac over the weekend, observes Bret Stephens in today's Wall Street Journal. "The speech was stocked with the perennial bromides about U.S.-Israeli friendship, which brought an anxious crowd to its feet a few times," he illustrates. "As for the rest, it was a thin tissue of falsehoods, rhetorical legerdemain, telling omissions and self-contradictions." Primarily, Stephens notes that, despite Obama's insistence to the contrary, "no U.S. president has explicitly endorsed the '67 lines as the basis for negotiating a final border" and argues that "the essence of his proposal is that Israel should cede territory, put itself into a weaker position, and then hope for the best. This doesn't even amount to a land-for-peace formula." The columnist suggests that Obama, instead, has "offered a formula for war," questioning the President's references to Israel as a "Jewish state." Why, he asks, "then obfuscate on the question of Palestinian refugees, whose political purpose over 63 years has been to destroy Israel as a Jewish state?" This is not, he argues, what a pro-Israel president would do.

Bill McKibben on Linking Tornadoes and Climate Change  Bill McKibben sarcastically warns in today's Washington Post that "it is vitally important not to make connections" between this week's devastating twister in Joplin, Mo., the other tornado outbreaks that took place last month, and the other record-breaking storms, fires, blizzards and droughts the world has experienced this year. "Then you might find your thoughts wondering to, oh, global warming" which would lead to a series of other questions. "Such as:  Should President Obama really just have opened a huge swath of Wyoming to new coal mining? Should Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sign a permit this summer allowing a huge new pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta?" Instead, McKibben proposes, you'd be better off siding with the House of Representatives, which recently decided to legally denounce global warming's existence. After all, according to what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told the Environmental Protection Agency: "there's no need to worry because 'populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations,'" he assures. "I'm pretty sure that's what residents are telling themselves in Joplin today."

The Boston Globe Editors on the IMF's 'Gentleman's Agreement'  "Since the [International Monetary Fund's] founding at the end of World War II, there's been a gentlemen's agreement that a European would lead the IMF and an American would guide the World Bank," the Boston Globe's editors explain. "The world has changed, however, in the last 70 years," they point out, and question why, now, Dominique Strauss-Kahn's replacement couldn't be "a financial expert from a rising power such as China, India, Turkey Brazil or South Africa?" As the fund is currently focused on the "debt woes in Greece, Ireland and Portugal," it does make sense for the IMF to be lead by a European "for the next year or two." But, 143 more countries have joined the IMF since its founding in 1946, so its about time, the editors argue, that "the IMF's outdated gentlemen's agreement" is put to rest. "How better to achieve that than to ask [French Foreign Minister Francine] Lagarde to help rescue Europe's ailing economies--and then throw open the doors to the executive suite to candidates from all around the world?"

The Los Angeles Times' Editors on California's Overcrowded Prisons "At last count there were 142,000 inmates in California prisons, which are so overcrowded that some prisoners must be housed collectively in gymnasiums or alone in phone-booth-sized cages," write the Los Angeles Times' editors. "Under the order upheld by the Supreme Court, the state must reduce its inmate population to 137.5% of the system's capacity — meaning about 110,000 — within two years." California Governor Jerry Brown's current plan, "to shift nonviolent offenders to county facilities" would not accomplish this goal within the Supreme Court's time constraints. The state must focus on finding "responsible ways to ease prison overcrowding," the editors argue. "One way is to create an independent panel to revise the state's haphazard sentencing guidelines, which all to often result in excessive terms that worsen overcrowding." This necessity has been discussed for years; even "Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger backed such a commission, but he couldn't get the Legislature to go along." The editors optimistically suggest that "maybe the threat of wide-scale prisoner release can finally scare our lawmakers straight."

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