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Albert H. Teich /

Contributing to Extremism

Thanks to the Internet, it is easier than ever to give a few bucks to a favorite candidate, and presidential contenders from Senator Bernie Sanders to Dr. Ben Carson are raising most of their funds in donations of less than $200 each. More widespread participation in politics is welcome, but an unintended consequence may be a rise in polarization.

The political scientist Michael Barber, of Brigham Young University, recently analyzed contributions to state legislative candidates across the country and discovered that grassroots donors were more inclined to support candidates who toed the party line on almost every issue. In contrast, Mr. Barber wrote in The Washington Post on Oct. 23, “interest groups tend to worry less about a candidate’s ideology…. They donate so they can talk with lawmakers as they’re writing bills and passing laws.” Political action committees, often seen as a corrupting influence, are also more supportive of moderate candidates who keep government running.


Individual voters may simply be responding to candidates who shout the loudest on cable news programs and social media. These days, we may be less likely to pick candidates based on conversations with co-workers, neighbors or fellow churchgoers—or to seek information from sources like labor unions and business organizations, which are more interested in responsive government than in brinkmanship politics. Whatever the reason, voters themselves may be contributing to the gridlock and dysfunction they routinely complain about. The election process might be improved by more careful deliberation before clicking “contribute” on a campaign website.

Maritime Mediation

The United States sent a clear message on Oct. 26 when it sailed a Navy warship within 12 nautical miles of the Subi Reef, an artificial island in the South China Sea: The laws of the sea will not be rewritten in sand. In recent years China has gone on a maritime dredging spree, turning previously submerged reefs into man-made landmasses in order to stake its territorial claims in the resource-rich and highly contested waters.

While the United States has refrained from formally taking sides in the South China Sea disputes, this “freedom of navigation operation” signaled to China and its Southeast Asian neighbors that the Obama administration will not abide by claims that violate international law regarding open sea lanes. There are legitimate reasons for this pointed show of force. Nations the world over, including China, have benefited from the passage of goods and persons in the Asian Pacific. With six countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam, jockeying for maritime rights, the historic role of the United States as a protector of free and safe navigation in the region remains important.

It is also essential, however, that the United States demonstrate its commitment to de-escalation and a preference for peaceful mediation. A good way to start is by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—166 countries have already signed on—that Republican senators have repeatedly blocked. Now, more than ever, it is vital that the United States throw its weight behind this comprehensive mechanism for multilateral dispute resolution.

Rollback for Working People

Wisconsin introduced the nation’s first workers’ compensation program in 1911. Now its Republican legislators propose a “reform” of the state’s system that threatens to significantly trim benefits for working people injured on the job and reduce the statute of limitations for “traumatic injuries” from 12 years to two. Workers seeking compensation would still be barred from suing employers.

Worse, the plan, among other measures, allows employers to pick the doctors who evaluate injuries for workers without insurance. Workers would have to argue about their own culpability for the injury to determine how much compensation they will receive. This “reform” moves the system from a straightforward no-fault process that quickly delivered compensation for injuries and lost wages into an appeal that is front-loaded against injured workers. The move expands a nationwide assault on workers’ compensation that has deeply diminished or eliminated compensation in 33 states, according to an NPR and ProPublica investigation in March. Employers are now paying the lowest rates for workers’ compensation insurance than at any time in the past 25 years.

Various state-level changes to compensation programs have transferred the responsibility for supporting injured workers from employers to taxpayers by way of the Social Security Disability, food stamp and Medicaid programs. Too many state governments, accepting legislation promoted or even written by corporate lobbyists, have been complicit in denying their own citizens just compensation. Since the federal government is often left holding the bag, it should revisit its oversight responsibilities for state compensation programs and consider appropriate legislation to restore workers’ rights when they are injured on the job.

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