Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times champions the West Virginia teachers ahead of a Supreme Court opinion that's expected to destroy public-sector unions:
Before he puts his name to a Supreme Court opinion that is expected to eviscerate public-sector unions, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. should visit West Virginia.
In considering issues in a case argued this week, Mr. Alito has said the fees that unions charge nonmembers for the expense of collective bargaining infringe on workers' "dignity and conscience" by forcing them to fund a union whose political positions they might disagree with.
He would learn something about workers' dignity if he spoke with Katie Endicott, a 31-year-old high school English teacher from Gilbert, W.Va., whose take-home pay is less than $650 a week. She's one of thousands of teachers who have been on strike for more than a week, shutting schools in all 55 counties of the state.
The state wanted to give 1 per cent annual raises for five years to the teachers — who make less than those in all but three states — and have them pay more for health insurance.
"I have two children; I live paycheque to paycheque," Ms. Endicott told The Times. "When I realized that they were taking hundreds of dollars and then they tried to tell me they were giving me a pay raise of 1 per cent, I knew I can't just sit back."
First she joined hundreds of teachers who flooded the state capitol on Feb. 2 as legislators considered legislation with the 1 per cent raise. It passed the Senate 33-0.
"We were just walking silently from the Capitol," Ms. Endicott related, "and one teacher said, 'Guys, we're really going to have to strike.' At that point, I knew."
Union battles have a deeper role in the history of West Virginia than that of perhaps any other state. Coal miners there fought bloody battles with mine owners who cared little for the sacrifice of life and limb that workers made to haul their coal from the earth. But unions have been broken there as they have throughout the country. Fewer than 5 per cent of miners are represented by unions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Public-sector unions have been the last bastion of worker strength.
Despite Justice Alito's hand-wringing over the right to free speech, the effect of the decision that is expected from the court would be to silence workers and sap their power. The West Virginia teachers are having none of that. While it looked as if the strike was settled this week when the governor agreed to 5 per cent raises, the Legislature had not committed to that, and how much workers would pay for health care was still unsettled. So the teachers stayed out.
"We come from an area that is known for standing up for what they believe in." Ms. Endicott said. "The union wars, they originated in the south in Mingo County. We believe we're following in their footsteps."
And, we can hope, these teachers can provide workers throughout the country with a powerful lesson.
The Los Angeles Times on how Congress' pursuit of Backpage.com might threaten internet protections:
The internet has been a tremendous force for good in the world, creating untold opportunities to connect, communicate, learn, create and make a living. But many of the properties of the net that make good things possible also enable less desirable pursuits, and even evil ones, on a vast scale. Congress is now focused on one of the worst of those pursuits: sex trafficking. It's taking particular aim at websites like Backpage.com that run ads for prostitutes, some of whom have been shown to be underage or adults who are effectively enslaved. But in their efforts to give prosecutors and victims more power in court, lawmakers are poised to weaken a legal protection that has helped produce much of what's good about the net.
That would be Section 230 of the federal Communications Act, which grants online companies immunity from liability for posting content from their users without modification. That's why, if someone posts a defamatory image on Facebook, Facebook isn't liable — the person who uploaded it is. The section provides a clear guideline for how to stay on the right side of the law, while also eliminating the costly burden of having to keep up with a patchwork of 50 states' statutes. Those protections are particularly helpful to small companies and startups that rely on user-generated content, such as the ones that grew up to become Twitter, Craigslist and Snap.
Yet as important as Section 230 has been to internet entrepreneurs and users, it has frustrated some prosecutors and claimants by forcing them to track down individual, often anonymous users, rather than targeting the websites that host the content. That's the impetus behind the two bills aimed at sex trafficking: HR 1865, a recently passed House bill known by the acronym FOSTA, and S 1693, a bill dubbed SESTA that's been awaiting action on the Senate floor.
State prosecutors, such as then-California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, and alleged victims of sex trafficking have brought multiple charges and claims against Backpage, only to have courts dismiss them because of Section 230. Although there's no shortage of evidence that sex traffickers have used Backpage and that the company has profited from those ads, company executives have insisted throughout that they host such ads unwittingly, and that when they become aware of problems, they help police identify and arrest lawbreakers.
The Senate bill would rewrite the federal sex trafficking law exempt from Section 230's immunity, allowing companies to be prosecuted not just for participating in sex trafficking, but also for "knowingly assisting, supporting or facilitating" it. But that approach would actually make it harder to convict sites that are deliberately assisting sex traffickers, the U.S. Department of Justice has warned, because it would require prosecutors to show that the site operators knew of specific instances of minors being offered for sex or adults being coerced into prostitution. At the same time, it would encourage sites that monitor their users' posts to stop doing so, just so they could avoid even being accused of knowingly assisting traffickers.
A previous version of the House bill would have taken a more workable approach, barring sites from being operated "with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person." But the bill was amended on the House floor to add provisions similar to the Senate bill, importing all of those problems. It also would the restrictions and penalties retroactively, which the Justice Department said, with typical understatement, "raises a serious constitutional concern." It's not a concern, it's a flatly unconstitutional change in the law.
Tellingly, both the House and Senate bills are supported by a trade association representing the dominant internet companies, while they are opposed by one representing startups. The Facebooks of the world can afford the uncertainty. The companies that want to be the next Facebook cannot.
The irony is that, as a Senate investigation last year contended, Backpage may not be entitled to immunity under Section 230. It's now facing a Justice Department investigation and a renewed lawsuit by trafficking victims in Boston. If Congress simply cannot wait to see how those cases turn out, there is a middle ground — it could give state attorneys general clearer authority to go after websites that violate federal sex trafficking laws. But if it insists on carving out a bigger hole in Section 230 to battle sex trafficking, it's only a matter of time before it comes under pressure to address another evil, and then another, and then another. And before you know it, there will be nothing left of Section 230.
The Deseret News on partisan politics:
Partisan politics is already in high gear for 2018, with both Democrats and Republicans taking action to enforce political purity tests on their members and candidates.
On the left, Sen. Diane Feinstein of California was deemed not liberal enough and was not endorsed by the state Democratic Party. On the right, the Utah Republican State Central Committee took action to consolidate power and establish litmus tests for candidates. It was not an accident that the nation's only truly independent president, George Washington, spent much of his farewell address warning against the partisan fighting of political parties.
In his essay, "the Malice of Parties," early 18th century writer Joseph Allen penned, "There cannot a greater judgment befall a country than a dreadful spirit of division as rends a government into two distinct people, and makes them greater strangers, and more averse to one another, than if they were actually two different nations."
Many, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich, have posited that America may be witnessing the beginning of the end of a two-party domination of politics.
Neither political party is providing a reason for voters, especially younger voters, to join their ranks. The days of taking pride as a "card-carrying" Democrat or Republican are gone. The parties have become so divisive in their rhetoric and so brazen in their pursuit of campaign cash that they are alienating their members in record numbers. More than 40 per cent of Americans self-identify as independent voters, although most still lean toward one party or the other.
The American people simply do not live in the realm of purity tests or absolutes Democrats and Republicans are creating. Neighbors often disagree on issues, but rather than hyperventilating about an area of disagreement, they set it aside and work together to make a difference for their community.
Would a multi-party system work in America? It is likely that the two major parties would still serve as the umbrella for control of Congress, with independent or small party members choosing to caucus with Democrats or Republicans. Currently in the U.S. Senate are two independents who both caucus with the Democrats. The seeds have been sown. Were this to become a trend, it could completely upend the stranglehold on power and process in both chambers and could lead to more transparency, more rigorous debate and a more open amendment process. All of which would be good for the country.
In the digital age, smaller parties are clearly possible. A party organization no longer needs to have big buildings and a massive army of employees to influence local and national races. Virtual parties based on websites, social media and volunteer engagement could be far more nimble and better able to connect with real people than the bureaucracies of traditional parties.
A potential benefit of smaller parties and coalition government is that it would force people to focus on areas of agreement rather than on areas of disagreement. Most Americans agree with a statement often attributed to Ronald Reagan, "The person who agrees with you 80 per cent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 per cent traitor."
A small-party, coalition-style approach to governing could take that 80/20 rule all the way to single-issue, or even single-element of an issue, coalitions. Imagine an immigration debate on the Senate floor, not based on partisan talking points but on the single issue of the need for a better entry/exit system to track who enters and who leaves the country. Voices heard, vote taken, accountability applied.
The two major political parties aren't likely to relinquish their iron-fisted control of national politics. However, the major parties' tightening grip may prove their undoing.
Whether current trends result in small-party politics and coalition governing, at minimum the American people should resoundingly reject divisive, hyper-partisan squabbling and instead join in the kind of civil dialogue that will move the country toward meaningful reforms and real results.
The Dallas Morning News takes a strong stance on regional barbecue culture:
The debate over which region of the country has the best barbecue is not likely to get settled anytime soon. But one claim of barbecue supremacy was met with an astonishingly rapid natural response. It began as a slow rumble in the Carolinas, made its way across Tennessee into Memphis, up into Kansas City before reaching a crescendo in Texas.
The sound? Laughter. The claim? Brooklyn barbecue is taking over the world.
A 2014 article in Vice that was recently republished and is making the rounds on Twitter said barbecue restaurants are popping up all over the world and when asked, the owners are citing barbecue joints in Brooklyn they've visited as the inspiration for these new restaurants in far-flung locales.
Bless their hearts.
It's easy to see how the burgeoning capital of hipster eating might fancy itself a leader in any particular cuisine. New York City has great food: thin crust pizza, crusty bagels, fancy chefs, and cuisine representing every point on the globe. And we can get emotional about hot dog turf: Gray's Papaya or Nathan's? Choose your tribe.
But every Texan knows better than to step foot into a barbecue restaurant anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line. It's not that the food is bad, it's just not real barbecue. And it makes us sad. Better to enjoy the local cuisine than to pine for home.
And debating folks from other barbecue cultures around the South is a lot of fun, especially if the argument devolves into a taste challenge. We're happy to taste inferior North Carolina barbecue, because, well, it's still barbecue. But challenging Brooklyn to a barbecue cook-off is like Mark Cuban baiting an Upward youth basketball team to go up against the Mavs. It ain't right.
Just look at the tray of barbecue from Fette Sau's in Brooklyn that Vice photographed to go with the story about New York's influence on global brisket. The limp pile of meat, the smushed Hawaiian rolls, the miniature pickles that somebody may have pilfered from a Jewish deli.
If you've ever eaten at Pecan Lodge in Dallas, Franklin Barbecue in Austin or Pinkerton's in Houston, you've no doubt had the brisket. You know what good brisket is. Good brisket is a friend of yours, and the brisket from Fette Sau's is not good-looking brisket. There's almost no smoke ring, and there's more bark from the yippy dogs carried in their small handbags around Williamsburg. Nothing seems tasty enough to even make a mess.
Surely New Yorkers love Texas barbecue, and maybe one day a Texas pitmaster will take on the selfless hardship of leaving Texas for a brisket-oriented mission trip to spread the good word. Until then, we invite those impoverished souls living in barbecue deserts down for a visit.
Y'all come in and make a plate.
The Wall Street Journal on the departure of White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn over tariffs:
The resignation of Gary Cohn is a significant blow to Donald Trump's Presidency, and recovering from it will be a significant challenge.
Departures are normal after a President's second year, but the circumstances of Mr. Cohn's leave-taking as top economic adviser are anything but normal after only 14 months.
Mr. Cohn was in the middle of a major policy dispute inside the Trump administration over trade policy. On one side were Mr. Cohn and free-trade advocates, and on the other was the Administration's protectionist wing led by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer and Mr. Trump's personal trade swami, Peter Navarro.
Losing policy disputes comes with the job, but the particulars of this loss revealed more about Mr. Trump's increasingly self-damaging style of managing his senior officials.
Last week, the President announced his intention to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, though "announcement" overstates what happened. Mr. Trump essentially blurted out the news at a White House meeting, blind-siding Mr. Cohn and the rest of the Administration team, in what amounted to a coup d'état by Mr. Ross and the protectionists.
Predictably the news caused a firestorm in financial markets and among countries who are not merely U.S. trading partners but its needed allies on international security issues, such as enforcing sanctions against North Korea.
Mr. Cohn leaves behind a strong legacy. He pushed hard for deregulatory initiatives that have produced strong growth. With Council of Economic Advisers Chair Kevin Hassett, he ran point for the White House on the big tax-cut bill. As important, Mr. Cohn assembled a first-rate team of policy advisers, not just on taxes but also on health care and infrastructure.
So an obvious question: Who will replace him? Put differently, who in the community of free-market economic specialists would take the job now? Mr. Cohn, a strong personality in his own right, provided ballast against some of Mr. Trump's worst economic-policy instincts. It is difficult to imagine that anyone outside the President's current protectionist cheer-leading squad would volunteer to put up with more of what happened during the past week.
Mr. Trump's early appointments to key Cabinet positions and to the White House policy-making apparatus were often stellar. Now, surely, the mill of rumours will begin grinding about more departures of top people, such as National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
A successful President needs allies, and Mr. Trump has had them so far. By contrast, the tariff decision is a leadership fiasco that has cost Mr. Trump a key ally in Gary Cohn. It is a loss, and this Presidency cannot afford more like it.
The Mail & Guardian (South Africa) disputes international concerns over land restitution:
When we talk about land in South Africa, we talk about earth firm enough to allow us to stand tall. When we talk about land, we talk about earth gentle enough to raise children who will know what it is to belong. When we talk about land, we talk about earth wide enough to admit the full complexity of who we are. When we talk about land, we talk principally about the dignity of those who live with an ongoing deprivation that can only be remedied by a fastidious process of redistribution. When we talk about land, we are talking too about recognizing that black South Africans have had their humanity systematically denied by a legislated system of dispossession.
The Natives Land Act of 1913 and the Native Administration Act of 1927 are two examples of the way the law was used to dispossess black people. As Tembeka Ngcukaitobi writes in this week's Mail & Guardian, it is these laws that governed the process over which white governments undermined the security of tenure of black people living in "native reserves" or on farms taken over by whites.
He says, when the Native Administration Act was passed, it recognized the (British) governor general as the "supreme chief of all natives", with the power to order the expulsion of any native from any part of the country.
This was not just about the law being used to govern the ownership of land as a physical thing, it was the law that was used to institutionalize the dehumanization of black people. It was used to assert a sense of control over the very being of black people.
And that is why the Bill of Rights, as the cornerstone of our democracy, the contract we enter into with each other, "enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom".
Dignity is not some manufactured sense of entitlement. Affirming a person's dignity is to affirm their humanity.
So when Parliament voted this week in favour of beginning a process that will look into the current legal infrastructure surrounding the restitution of land, it was an important moment in the history of South Africa. Especially important, because, for the past 23 years, the government has failed to use the existing legal framework to push through an active process of land restitution.
What is at stake is not the egos of politicians and their careers, which are so dependent on playing on the emotions of the public. What is at stake is the recognition that the time to relegate this debate to idle chit-chat is long gone.
And the likes of the Economic Freedom Fighters' Julius Malema know this. You can mistrust the motives of politicians like him and the ANC du jour but you cannot deny that a concerted push for the restitution of land is long overdue. Elsewhere in the M&G today, we convey the results of government's most recent land audit, which found that an overwhelming majority of privately owned land in South Africa is in the hands of white people. It is unconscionable to maintain these systems of ownership.
And yet, for some of the dissenting voices this week, the emphasis on redistribution of land appears out of place. After all, this is a South Africa with a struggling economy, where corruption sinks its hooks into even the best intentions to do good by the people.
Our current economic framework needs growth to ensure more people have jobs, more people have access to livelihoods. The World Bank and other institutions believe that a system of secure and well-protected private property rights is best justified by its function of promoting growth in developing societies. But a neoliberal conception of property rights that views land redistribution as antithetical to growth is flawed.
We must seriously rethink concerns that posit land restitution as a threat to economic growth. The discussion about to unfold in Parliament must understand land in terms of both dignity and wealth.
Weighing up the restoration of a people's dignity against the whims of the market may prove challenging. And it is complex, as the ANC's amendments to the EFF's motion prove this week.
But we should not fear complexity. We must ensure an honest, rigorous, well-governed process of restitution ensues. Our dignity depends on it.