Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times on the Supreme Court and racism:
In the last speech of his life, on April 3, 1968, in Memphis, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. laid out the case for the dignity and equality of African-Americans as simply as he could. "We aren't engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people," he said. "All we say to America is, 'Be true to what you said on paper.'"
The moral clarity of that appeal is bracing, and so is the difficulty of achieving it — a fact that is evident nowhere as much as in the fight for voting rights. As Dr. King knew well, the history of voting in the United States was, and is, in large part the history of white people in power devising endless ways to keep black people from casting a ballot.
It's been true all along, from the complete disenfranchisement of slavery to the effective silencing of the Jim Crow era up to now, when a welter of clever and at times subtle laws operates to make it harder for minorities to get to the polls, and to have an equal voice — or any voice at all — in the choice of our representatives and policies.
This is always a serious matter, but especially now, as the midterm elections approach with control of Congress at stake. As recent elections in Virginia and Alabama have shown, minority voters can make all the difference.
Dr. King understood this half a century ago, which is why he considered the right to vote the centerpiece of the civil rights movement. "Voting is the foundation stone for political action," he wrote in an essay titled "Civil Right No. 1," which ran in The New York Times Magazine in March 1965, days after the march and bloodshed in Selma and months before the Voting Rights Act would become law.
The right to vote wasn't just "the most fundamental of all privileges of democracy," Dr. King wrote; it would, if truly enjoyed by black Americans, transform the entire country. "Our vote would place in Congress true representatives of the people who would legislate for the Medicare, housing, schools and jobs required by all men of any color."
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is arguably the most popular and effective civil rights law in the nation's history. Soon after it passed, black registration and turnout skyrocketed. In Mississippi, 7 percent of eligible black voters were registered in 1965; two years later, 60 percent were. Still, the law shouldn't have been necessary. The constitutional amendments it codified had been passed about a century earlier but then were systematically undermined by a racist regime determined to protect white power. And even though Congress has reauthorized the law four times — the last time, in 2006, the Senate approved it 98 to 0 — it still requires frequent care and tending by the federal courts, especially the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, the court's conservative majority has severely weakened the protections the law was intended to provide. The biggest blow came in a 2013 decision, Shelby County v. Holder. In that case, the five conservative justices, led by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., gutted the heart of the act, which identified several states with long histories of voting discrimination, most in the South, and required them to get federal permission before changing their voting laws. While that remedy may have been a necessary response to 1960s-era racism, the chief justice wrote, "things have changed dramatically."
In one sense, he was right: Racial discrimination in voting is no longer as blatant or systemic as it was in 1965. But the idea that the American fixation on race and power had magically evaporated in just a few decades was, at best, strikingly naïve. It was also disproved within hours of the court's ruling, when Republican lawmakers in Texas and North Carolina, both states that had been covered by the Voting Rights Act, rammed through discriminatory new voting laws that they had been gunning to pass for years, including some that had been blocked under the act.
If this wasn't enough evidence that things have not, in fact, changed dramatically, the point was driven home by the election of Donald Trump in 2016, and the resurgence of overt racism and white nationalism that has followed, with no meaningful pushback from the president.
In the years before Mr. Trump's election and in the time since, Republican lawmakers around the country aggressively pushed through laws to make voting harder for certain groups, particularly minorities. Poll taxes and literacy tests have given way to voter-ID laws, cutbacks to early voting and same-day registration, polling place closings, voter-roll purges, racially discriminatory redistricting and felon disenfranchisement laws — most of which, though justified on race-neutral grounds, harm minority voters more.
They can also depress turnout, when voters who are not in fact blocked from voting become discouraged by a state apparatus that exudes hostility toward their attempts to exercise their fundamental right.
Are these laws, passed almost invariably by Republican lawmakers, intentionally racist? Or are they merely taking partisan advantage of the fact that black people today vote overwhelmingly for Democrats? It shouldn't matter. Either way, black voters are targeted, their right to vote hampered.
In the past couple of years, lower federal courts — notably in Texas, Wisconsin and North Carolina, home to some of the worst voting laws in the country — have begun to recognize this. They have become more skeptical of lawmakers' rationales for passing voting restrictions and have zeroed in on the real impact of such laws on minorities and other vulnerable groups. In striking down a remarkably harsh North Carolina law in 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that lawmakers had targeted black voters "with almost surgical precision."
This is an important step toward a robust judicial defense of voting rights. Now Congress must repair the damage the Supreme Court inflicted on the Voting Rights Act. The most important fix is to restore and strengthen the federal government's oversight of states and localities that continue to discriminate in voting. This would stop bad laws before they could take effect. It would also eliminate the years of delays that are part of most election-related litigation.
Fifty years after his death, Dr. King's message is as urgent as it ever was: Justice delayed is justice denied. That may be the most insidious legacy of the court's Shelby County decision. Lawmakers get free rein to discriminate, while citizens must file private lawsuits and then wait, often years, while elections keep being held, representatives keep getting elected and policies keep getting made.
The Supreme Court has two options. It can follow the lead of the lower federal courts and be more honest about discriminatory voting laws, or it can stick with the willful blindness of its 2013 ruling and let discrimination flourish.
To make the right choice, the justices need only look to someone like Representative John Lewis, the 16-term Georgia congressman who was nearly beaten to death while marching in Selma. Or they can look to Dr. King himself, who would have turned 89 in January. America was legally an apartheid state in living memory. That fact should serve as a corrective to the dangerous notion that "things have changed" enough in the short time since to let our guard down.
The Charlotte Observer on Sinclair Broadcast Group's required scripts:
A TV anchor stares at the camera and recites a seemingly-benign script about the dangers of fake news and why her station prides itself on "quality, balanced journalism." But it's not just that one anchor; it is dozens across the country, all working for Sinclair Broadcast Group, all literally reading off the same script.
"We're concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media," the script reads. "More alarming, some media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control 'exactly what people think' ... This is extremely dangerous to our democracy."
Sinclair, which owns or operates 193 stations and is the nation's largest broadcaster, provided the script. It's what the anchors don't say that's so disturbing and, frankly, embarrassing to every journalist who participated in what many are comparing to hostage videos - that they were mandated to do those spots, which strongly resemble President Donald Trump's words. They were told to use time slotted for news, not for advertising, and to repeat the message often. The anchors don't mention that inside their newsrooms, journalists have felt uncomfortable because their integrity is being undercut by a corporation seeking to expand its reach by buying Tribune Media.
Sinclair, which has several stations in the Carolinas, became infamous late in the 2004 election cycle when it forced its stations to air a misleading segment about Democrat John Kerry. It has recently forced stations to air commentary by a former Trump campaign official known for making false claims, as well as something called the "Terrorism Alert Desk."
According to CNN, a Sinclair news station director sent this email to his newsroom: "Let me be absolutely clear here ... These MUST run. If they do not, my job is on the line. I don't say that to scare you by any means but I do say this so you understand how serious (Sinclair) is about this project."
An investigative reporter told the cable network: "It sickens me the way this company is encroaching upon trusted news brands in rural markets."
Journalists have a responsibility to serve as a bulwark against threats to a free press. It won't be easy. Local reporters are under enormous pressure to do more with less. It's no small thing to ask someone to risk his job. But that is the stance journalists ask others to take, including the politician pressured to take extreme positions and the man forced to choose between a paycheck and reporting unscrupulous banking practices.
Many consumers want only news that confirms what they want to believe. But journalists are called to respect news consumers enough to give them truth. They can't do that by dutifully following commands that undercut their own credibility.
That's why this shouldn't be a wake-up call only for Sinclair employees. All media outlets must redouble their commitment to more responsibly - and fearlessly - wield the power they've been granted.
Billings Gazette calls for Yellowstone Gateway protections:
With time running short on temporary protection for public land north of Yellowstone National Park, the U.S. Forest Service last week released the draft environmental assessment needed to withdraw federal minerals from mining for up to 20 years.
The protection process requires the Forest Service to complete that document, but additional steps are needed to keep 30,000 acres of forest land unimpaired by large-scale gold mining that two firms with foreign financing are threatening.
The public lands at issue adjoin two proposed mine exploration sites: one at Emigrant about 25 miles south of Livingston on the east side of the Yellowstone River, the other at Crevice Mountain on the northern border of Yellowstone Park east of Gardiner. For the past few years, hundreds of residents of Paradise Valley and neighboring areas have asked federal authorities to prevent commercial mining by putting public minerals off limits to leasing.
Former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell issued a two-year pause on any mineral leasing in Paradise Valley effective Nov. 22, 2016. Although the land is managed by the USDA Forest Service, the underground minerals are the purview of the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management. Secretary Ryan Zinke will decide whether to extend the mineral withdrawal past Nov. 22.
"We really want this to be done and completed by then," said Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition spokeswoman Karrie Kahle. "The clock is ticking."
With more than 400 members, the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition has led efforts to prevent mining on these two tracts of public land. The mineral withdrawal wouldn't apply to private land or existing mining claims.
"The Forest Service should be commended for producing a detailed and comprehensive plan to help us prevent pollution of our clean water and the erosion of our local businesses and way of life," said Dale Sexton, a Livingston business owner and founding member of the Gateway Coalition. "Montana businesses will pursue the maximum protections allowed by the EA to divert foreign mining companies from developing industrial mines on the doorstep to Yellowstone National Park."
Zinke supported the Yellowstone Gateway mineral withdrawals in statements he made while Montana's lone congressman and again since he became Interior secretary. We call on Zinke to put his words into action by approving the maximum protection he can: a 20-year withdrawal order issued before Nov. 22.
The bipartisan Gateway Coalition will continue to seek action from Montana's delegation because only Congress can permanently protect this public land from mining that is otherwise controlled by the long-antiquated Mining Law of 1872.
To their credit, Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Greg Gianforte have introduced bills to permanently protect the 30,000 acres split between Emigrant and Crevice Mountain. However, Sen. Steve Daines has effectively blocked Tester's bill, which had a hearing in a Senate subcommittee Daines chairs.
Oddly, Daines' office issued a press release Thursday quoting the senator saying he is "glad . the U.S. Forest Service is following the local community's wishes to protect this area that is critical to Montana's outdoor economy. I will continue to explore opportunities to move forward with permanent protection."
So far Daines is all talk and no action. He need not "explore;" Tester and Gianforte have already put their constituents' request into legislation. With Daines' support, those public lands could have been protected in the big budget bill that passed last month. Yellowstone Gateway protection won't become permanent unless Daines acts. Montanans are watching what Daines does — not only what he says about Paradise Valley.
The Seattle Times on a ruling that coffee must come with warning labels in California:
Don't worry, coffee-addled Seattleites: You and your morning ritual are safe.
Despite a Los Angeles judge's ruling that in California coffee must carry a warning label, there's little cause for concern.
California's Proposition 65 labeling certainly delivers a jolt, notifying consumers of the presence of chemicals the state has listed as causing cancer and birth defects.
And while it's smart to be cautious about food and drink, here's something to ease your caffeinated mind. California's coffee shop warning relates to acrylamide, a chemical produced when coffee beans are roasted. Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in rodents, but that's when they are given doses up to 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than what people might be exposed to in foods, according to the American Cancer Society.
In 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer cited a lack of evidence that coffee drinking causes cancer in humans. In fact, drinking coffee can reduce people's risk of developing common cancers and heart disease. A British Medical Journal review of more than 200 studies published last fall found that drinking three or four cups of coffee a day "is associated with health benefits across a range of diseases," including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
California's toxics labeling initiative is well intended, but by attempting to condense an entire body of scientific literature into a placard, the java warnings are not helpful.
Such labeling may steer some consumers away from a product that may actually help reduce their cancer risk. In other words, don't be afraid of your morning — or afternoon — coffee.
The Boston Herald on the return of 'Roseanne' and the appeal of Donald Trump:
The return of the hit TV sitcom "Roseanne" couldn't have come at a better time. It's an opportunity for many Americans to be introduced to the working class.
In the show, Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) is a Trump supporter. She's got a bad knee but can't get treatment because her insurance won't cover it. Her husband, Dan, played again by John Goodman, wears a sleep apnea device and does drywall work for a living, though he should probably be retired.
The Conners represent a typical Midwestern blue-collar family. But it could be many blue-collar families everywhere. They love God and serve their country. They own guns, drink beer and shop at Target and Walmart. They are good and decent people.
And they are struggling. That is front and center in explaining their support for Donald Trump.
In the show, Roseanne's sister Jackie, played by Laurie Metcalf, asks, "How could you vote for him?"
"He talked about jobs, Jackie. He said he'd shake things up," Roseanne shot back.
Exactly. That is the life of the working class that elites in this country never bothered to learn about or understand. Instead they called them dumb and deplorable. Not one thought was given to the struggles of the "Roseanne class."
Their plight is on display everywhere, including in Massachusetts, where it happens in our neighborhoods.
Parents whose kids see children across the street in Little League uniforms and want to play. But mom and dad can't afford it and so they make up a reason at the block party for public consumption but feel a stab of pain every time they think about it.
Working families who use the self-checkout at the grocery store not because the cashiers don't look like them, but because they know they're going to have their credit cards rejected multiple times before one finally works and they don't want anyone to see.
Right now somebody is probably reading this Herald in a break room somewhere, exhausted, wondering why two jobs isn't enough anymore.
While the most fortunate in our country make the agonizing choice as to whether or not to wear their $1,000 Canada Goose jacket for another season, there are many who've been out of work so long that their self-esteem is shattered and they just want to feel like real people again.
The "Roseanne class" is trying to survive and stay positive at the same time. They'd love to be in a position to complain about one of their Amazon Prime deliveries being a day late but they're too busy trying to fend off poverty.
The "Roseanne class" doesn't need lectures from coastal elites and they don't need to endure never-ending insults. They are not so dumb. When the smartest, most well-heeled dandies in high society with all their degrees scoffed at working Americans as moronic rubes for thinking Donald Trump could be president, blue-collar Americans knew better.
The "Roseanne class" voted for Trump because they needed jobs and they needed things to be shaken up, and we had better start respecting that. They are living week to week and need help now and have little time for Stormy Daniels, Russian conspiracy theories and smarmy late-night talk hosts telling third-rate jokes about orange Cheetos.
We'd be wise to quell our knee-jerk impulse to mock their accents and attire because though they may not know how to dress for West Hollywood they certainly know how to dress for war and they do every time they are called to defend this country.
The redux of Roseanne includes a nod to the troops and law enforcement and also just happens to be a hilarious show. More importantly we can also hope that it may be a way to finally bridge the gap between the two Americas of 2018. In the show, both sides are gently skewered with clever barbs tossed back and forth on an equal level, but the comedy is brilliantly used as covering fire for important conversation.
Conversation. Remember that?
Business Day (South Africa) on the legacy of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela:
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who died on Monday, was a divisive character in life and is proving so in death too. But beyond the acrid debates about how she is "seen" or "understood" stands a powerful, iconic, somewhat misunderstood, somewhat flawed figure who had an enormous influence on South African politics. For that alone, we all owe her a debt of recognition and honor, even if those sentiments incorporate the requirement of forgiveness too.
To Madikizela-Mandela's many supporters, she could do no wrong, even when doing wrong because of a depressingly frequent response to many of the dilemmas into which she was willingly and unwillingly thrust. To her many enemies, she could do no right, even though her resilience and passion were just two of her very obvious strengths.
It is a rare person who contains contradictions so grand that her weaknesses were also, in a way, her strengths and her strengths sometimes mutated into weaknesses. In a life filled with ironies, Madikizela-Mandela endured with superhuman strength not only her own incarceration but the incarceration of her husband, Nelson Mandela, for 27 years, only for her marriage to fall apart two years after he was released from prison.
Arguably, her greatest political act was selflessly keeping the name of her husband alive while he was in prison. But doing so involved its own internal contradiction because as soon as he was free, her notional political function all but fell away.
To add irony to irony, Mandela himself was torn not only by his wife's infidelity but by her politics of hatred and anger. The duo constituted a kind of yin and yang of South African politics, representing in their own way the supremacy of revenge over reconciliation and vice versa.
For those who would castigate Madikizela-Mandela for her choice, it is worth bearing in mind the awful fate inflicted on her by the apartheid authorities: incarceration, torture, banishment and living for years under a banning order aimed at isolating her from her political supporters. This in addition to living a kind of distant parallel life with her husband whom she could visit only infrequently and always separated by a pane of glass.
Yet Madikizela-Mandela somehow always managed to make things worse. There is a good chance the apartheid security forces used her willfulness and anger to try and split the struggle movement, yet even the most active supporter cannot but acknowledge her active contribution in this process. Her anger made her impressively defiant, but also a tempestuous liability.
The lowest point was perhaps the notorious Mandela United Football Club incident. Even before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, hardly an instrument of apartheid oppression, Madikizela-Mandela refused to show remorse for abductions and murders carried out in her name. Only after pleading from anguished commission chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu did she admit grudgingly that "things went horribly wrong".
And they kept going wrong. Her frustration and anger only grew over the years. She became progressively more angry and distant from the ANC, the party she once declared she was married to, and happily so in contrast to her own marriage. How corrosive that must have been to her psyche.
How embarrassing that must still be to her political spouse. It is no wonder she is championed now with real feeling not by her own party but by the EFF, the radical group she openly supported. In a sense, she divorced twice, and was twice embittered by it.
Yet, she did reconcile with her actual former husband during his final days, displaying once again the courage she always had. In the end, Madikizela-Mandela deserves to be honored if not for her politics then at the very least for her personal resilience, courage and fortitude. May she achieve in death the peace that eluded her in life.