Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times on President Donald Trump's first Oval Office address and his border policies:
How fitting is it that President Trump's first Oval Office address, which he requested be televised live in prime time by every major network, was aimed at stirring up the American public about a crisis largely of his own making?
Not that the border crisis is one of Mr. Trump's self-serving political fictions — like the deep state or widespread voter fraud. It may have started out that way, but the situation has, with the president's nurturing, become something far more tragic.
Pursuing poorly thought-out and even more poorly executed policies on the pretext of battling a nonexistent national security crisis, Mr. Trump has helped create a pressing humanitarian one. Desperate migrant families being detained en masse at the border are overwhelming a system pushed beyond its limits by an administration that chose to ignore the implications of its actions — overcrowding, children falling gravely ill and, paradoxically, the haphazard release of throngs of detainees into border communities stretching from California to Texas.
Mr. Trump is now invoking the urgency of the situation as a justification for pursuing more wasteful, hard-line measures that most Americans do not support, chiefly the ludicrous border wall over which he has shut down critical pieces of the government. The president and his enablers have been busily knitting together inaccurate data, misleading anecdotes, exaggerations and other "alternative facts" about the flow of criminals, drugs and terrorists across the southern border. He seems to hope he can paint a dystopian landscape of security threats and human suffering so dire that the American people will rally to his side and pressure congressional Democrats to succumb to his demands for a towering wall — preferably concrete, but at this point, it seems, steel will suffice.
Failing that, Mr. Trump has also been floating the possibility of stiff-arming Congress altogether. With his advisers increasingly anxious that Republican lawmakers are poised to abandon them on the shutdown, the president has raised the threat of declaring a national emergency, which he thinks would allow him to command the Pentagon to build his wall.
Such a move would prompt a swift and furious legal challenge, if not a full-blown constitutional crisis, that could drag on indefinitely. It would, however, also give Mr. Trump a way to reach a wall-free funding deal with Congress without losing face, thus weaseling out of the shutdown box into which he has nailed himself.
The border wall began life as an applause line at Mr. Trump's rallies, and it has endured as the rare — perhaps even sole — policy objective that actually matters to him. The substance of true border security may not interest him much, but this symbol sure does.
While Mr. Trump proved a wily campaigner and political street fighter, as president he has been painfully out of his element. Two years in, he remains ill suited to the complicated, thankless, often grinding work of leading the nation. Governance clearly bores him, as do policy details both foreign and domestic. He has proved a poor judge of talent. He prefers grandstanding to negotiating, and he continues to have trouble with the whole concept of checks and balances. While the Republican base remains enamored of him, most of the electorate has grown weary of his outrages and antics.
Which is why, with his wall on the line, Mr. Trump so desperately needs to convince the American people that they are facing an acute crisis — maybe even a bona fide emergency.
In times of trouble, an anxious public looks to its leaders, and the ability to telegraph strength, decisiveness and certitude assumes greater value than in periods of calm and prosperity. Circle-the-wagons patriotism, maybe even a little jingoism, becomes more appealing. People long to feel protected.
With his demagogy, Mr. Trump managed to fuel a sense of insecurity and unease throughout his campaign, along with the idea that he alone could Make America Great Again. In office, he has attempted to perpetuate that angst by proclaiming existential threats to the Republic, be they migrant caravans storming the border, Muslim terrorists flooding the airports or violent immigrants roaming the countryside. Shutting down the government is only the most recent effort at getting what he wants by traumatizing the nation he has sworn to serve.
Were Mr. Trump truly interested in securing the border, and easing the suffering his policies are making worse, there are immediate steps he could take. For starters, he could end this wretched shutdown so that the people responsible for protecting the border can get paid, immigration judges can return to processing asylum claims and, yes, the physical and virtual barriers already in place can be maintained and perhaps even improved.
Beyond that, he would need to ease up on the my-way-or-the-highway swagger and sit down for a real discussion with lawmakers about how to address the deep dysfunction of this nation's immigration system.
None of which would be as sensational as grabbing some prime-time airtime.
It would, however, be a sign that the president is at last getting serious about immigration concerns he has thus far done nothing but exacerbate.
The Telegraph on Amazon's influence:
Within the space of 25 years, a company that began life selling niche second-hand books from a garage in Seattle has become the world's most valuable business. Amazon was worth £634bn when the US stock market closed on Monday, surpassing Microsoft for the first time.
Jeff Bezos, the founder, started off with the sale of a book entitled Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought, by Douglas Hofstadter. Today, his company dominates the online retail delivery market and has expanded into TV, online film and music distribution and cloud computing. It has made Mr Bezos the richest man on earth, owner of the Washington Post and a power in the land; and as is inevitable when someone reaches such heights the question arises: has he become too powerful?
In the past 25 years huge corporations - Apple, Google and Facebook - have sprung almost out of nothing. But Amazon's reach seems greater than any. There are echoes from history here. In the late 19th century, Standard Oil, founded by John D Rockefeller, rapidly became the world's first and largest multinational corporation. In 1911, however, the US Supreme Court, in a landmark case, ruled it was an illegal monopoly that was using aggressive pricing to put competitors out of business. The court forced its break-up into 34 smaller companies.
There is no reason yet to believe Amazon is the Standard Oil of today. In retail, for instance, it is smaller than Walmart and in the media world it is still dwarfed by other players. But it is growing fast and you can be sure that regulators are keeping an eye on just how fast.
Chicago Tribune on a series examining R. Kelly's history and allegations that he sexually abused women and girls:
December saw many of us nestled inside watching romantic Hallmark Channel movies, but January brings a counterpunch: a twisted Lifetime saga of sexual abuse and control. Not romance-gone-wrong escapism, this is a six-part documentary: "Surviving R. Kelly," an examination of a long history of allegations against the Chicago R&B star.
Kelly has not been convicted of any sex crime and was acquitted of child pornography charges in Cook County in 2008. The Lifetime documentary, however, has brought to a national roar a story that isn't new to music fans or to Chicago. Troubling coverage of Kelly dates to his 1994 marriage to singer Aaliyah, when he was 27 and she was 15, and to reporting by Jim DeRogatis and Abdon Pallasch in the Chicago Sun-Times beginning in 2000. A girl born that year is now legal for a 52-year-old like Kelly to date in Illinois, where the age of consent is generally 17.
Press coverage, a trial and the passage of a generation haven't ended Kelly's career or even his artistic collaborations. This at a time when the #MeToo movement has held accountable numerous entertainment industry figures for their bad behavior. That raises a painful question and belated soul-searching by many people: Have disturbing claims, backed by hit song lyrics about age being "nothing but a number," drawn inadequate attention because the alleged victims are black girls?
A white juror from Kelly's child pornography trial appears in the documentary saying he didn't like the way the girls who testified dressed and acted, fueling his doubt about their accounts. But #MeToo has ushered in a new era in which claims of abuse and demands for justice are taken seriously.
Chance the Rapper apologized over the weekend for collaborating with Kelly in 2015. And commenters from Chicago and beyond — some of whom posted on social media about Kelly's predilections being common talk in the city — seemed to recognize at last that sexual behavior toward young girls isn't just creepy. If proven by the courts, it's criminal. We anticipate police and prosecutors are paying renewed attention to the allegations involving Kelly. Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx on Tuesday encouraged alleged victims to come forward.
Downloads of his music spiked higher after the documentary's airing. It's a distressing but probably natural bump, as listeners want to check out his sound and lyrics amid this renewed attention. It also points to the responsibility of consumers to vote with their dollars and downloads.
The volume and intensity of the Lifetime series has caused the public to tune in to what amounts to a harrowing cry. Will it be heard?
The Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer on the Supreme Court agreeing to hear cases that could produce the first limits on partisan gerrymandering:
When North Carolina's Republican legislative leaders have seen their work struck down in court as unconstitutional — as they have many times — they have frequently responded by attacking the judge or judges as partisan hacks.
That approach won't work if the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court surprises the nation by throwing out the congressional district map that N.C. legislators explicitly drew to elect as many Republicans as possible.
The court on Friday agreed to hear a challenge to the North Carolina map, as well as one to a Maryland congressional district. That was big news, because while the court has addressed racial gerrymandering, it has never ruled on whether partisan gerrymandering can be unconstitutional. In taking these cases, the court could for the first time establish whether crafting districts to help one party over the other is permissible.
Despite the odds, we and most N.C. voters hope the court does away with the practice or severely limits it. North Carolina's leaders acknowledge that they drew the lines to ensure that 10 Republicans were elected to the state's 13 congressional seats. Rep. David Lewis said they did so "because I do not believe it's possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats."
Such an approach is the height of hubris and an insult to voters, whichever party is in charge. It essentially robs millions of voters of their voice, since the outcome is preordained. In a more narrow legal sense, it also could violate the First Amendment right to association, as now-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy argued in 2004. Democracy requires people to join together to advance their political beliefs. So when a state makes that nearly impossible, "First Amendment concerns arise."
Long ago Senate president pro tem Phil Berger, a Republican, co-sponsored five bills over eight years to create independent redistricting commissions. Now that his party is in the majority, he sees no need for change.
Unfortunately, it's hard to be optimistic about the Supreme Court's view of the N.C. case (which is called Rucho vs. Common Cause). The conservative justices are not inclined to think the courts should meddle in states' political affairs. When the moderate Kennedy was on the court, there was a chance he could side with the court's four liberals. His replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, has not ruled on partisan gerrymandering cases before, but there's little reason to think he would break with his fellow conservatives in this case. Given his clear partisan leanings revealed in his confirmation hearings, it's almost certain he won't.
The court, which will hear arguments in March and likely rule by June, will decide only if partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. It will not rule on whether it's a wise practice that benefits this country. Clearly it's not and it doesn't. North Carolina should follow the lead of several other states that have created independent commissions, with legislative input, to draw maps.
Only then will political seats be won the old-fashioned way: By convincing voters you are the best candidate, on a level playing field.
The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, on Clemson winning college football's national championship:
Clemson left no doubts Monday about who has the nation's best college football team.
The Tigers' emphatic 44-16 beat-down of mighty Alabama is their second national championship in three years. Both victories were earned against the Crimson Tide, the program every school has aspired to emulate over the past decade.
Unlike the previous title game, Clemson didn't have to squeak by at the last heart-stopping second. The Tigers were dominant in all phases of the contest, beginning with an interception returned for a touchdown in the opening minutes. Alabama players and coach Nick Saban were left grasping for answers at every turn as they were swallowed by a sea of orange executing a masterful game plan.
While earning the program's third title overall — its first came in 1982 — Clemson and coach Dabo Swinney showed that they have moved past trying to prove they belong in the conversation with Alabama. Mr. Swinney has built arguably the top program in the country, and it might not be toppled from that perch anytime soon.
The Tigers have terrific skills on both offense and defense, including a talented freshman quarterback with the poise of a veteran, an excellent coaching staff, top-notch recruiting and a rabid fan base. Some schools are lucky enough to have two or three of those qualities; assembling all of them puts Clemson at the pinnacle of the college football landscape.
The championship game began with heralded Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa throwing an interception that Clemson's A.J. Terrell returned for a touchdown. A few frantic minutes later the Crimson Tide looked to tie it up at 14-14, but their kicker missed the extra-point attempt. While kicking has been Alabama's one odd weakness, the botched kick turned out to be an ominous sign.
Clemson roared to a 31-16 halftime lead behind three touchdowns from Travis Etienne, one of the best running backs in the country. Fabulous freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence connected with Justyn Ross — an Alabama native who spurned the Crimson Tide's recruiting advances — for a 74-yard score midway through the third quarter. It was all over.
Part of Mr. Swinney's success is the unique family atmosphere and culture he has established at Clemson, something that is attractive to players and their families. That is one of the reasons Mr. Ross chose Clemson over Alabama.
The Tigers also have an intense desire to win — and the confidence that they will prevail, regardless of the opponent.
"Our guys, they had a clear vision of the way we wanted this to go," Coach Swinney said after the game, according to The Post and Courier's Grace Raynor. "There was a lot of talk about 'best ever' all year long. We were never in that conversation. But (Monday night), there's no doubt."
Given the elite level of talent, recruiting and coaching at both Clemson and Alabama, there is a good chance that these same two teams could end up in another title game in January 2020.
Only next year, it may well be Alabama trying to prove it is Clemson's equal.
Los Angeles Times on reports of online fakery in the 2017 Alabama Senate race:
With the conspicuous exception of President Trump and some of his supporters, Americans were appalled when it was revealed that Russian "troll farms" had launched a disinformation campaign on social media designed to influence the 2016 election. But online deception about elections is detestable even when it originates inside this country, as it apparently did in a 2017 special election for a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama.
The New York Times reported Monday that progressive Democrats opposed to Roy Moore, the odious Republican candidate in that race, created a Facebook page and Twitter feed purporting to represent Moore supporters opposed to the sale of alcoholic beverages. The convoluted strategy behind the "Dry Alabama" campaign was to associate Moore with calls for a statewide ban on the sale of liquor in order to alienate moderate, pro-business Republicans and help Democratic candidate Doug Jones. (Jones, who says he had no idea that the deception was underway on his behalf, was narrowly elected.)
"Dry Alabama" was actually the second case of Russian-style disinformation in the Alabama campaign uncovered by the New York Times. In December it reported on an "experiment" in which a phony Facebook page was created to try to drain support for Moore from conservatives and a "false flag" operation was created to suggest that the Republican candidate was being followed on Twitter by Russian bots.
Ironically, one of the participants in that project was Jonathon Morgan, the chief executive of New Knowledge, a cyber security firm that compiled a report on Russian disinformation for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Morgan said that his intention was to understand the mechanics of disinformation tactics, not to affect the outcome of the election. But the New York Times quoted an internal report saying that the project sought to "enrage and energize Democrats."
The architects of "Dry Alabama" made no apology for trying to influence the election. Matt Osborne, a progressive activist who worked on the project, told the New York Times that while he hoped that deceptive tactics would someday be banned from American politics, in the meantime Democrats "cannot unilaterally give it up."
That's ludicrous. Misleading voters is not just another campaign tactic. It's a corruption of democracy.
Jones, the supposed beneficiary of these efforts, sees things more clearly. After the first report of online disinformation, the senator said that he was outraged. He has called for investigations by the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department to see whether any laws were violated.
Even if they weren't, this sort of deception is entirely unacceptable, whether practiced by Republicans, Democrats or Russians. Candidates should follow Jones' lead in disavowing it.