Editorials from around New England
Editorials from around New England:
The Hartford Courant, Nov. 15
Parents of schoolchildren murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School are trying to persuade the state Supreme Court to let them sue the manufacturer of the military-style weapon used in the 2012 slaughter, as well as the gun distributor and the now-closed store where it was bought. We hope they prevail.
The courageous parents have one large obstacle to overcome: Gun makers have special immunity from civil lawsuits. It’s a shield that few, if any, other industries have, and it was granted by a cowardly Congress in the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
The gun lobby said at the time that it needed protection from a slew of lawsuits because it didn’t have “deep pockets.” Congress, however, should be protecting Americans from the gun violence that infects the nation, not giving gun makers special protections.
The Sandy Hook parents are arguing before Connecticut’s high court that an exception in that 2005 law allows them to sue the makers of the Bushmaster AR-15 that killed their children. That exception is called “negligent entrustment.”
Legal scholars, in a brief explaining how this legal doctrine has worked in cases ranging from slingshots to ATVs, summarized it this way: “In entrusting his property to another, did the defendant take adequate precautions given the magnitude of the foreseeable risk?”
It doesn’t necessarily matter that Remington, the maker of the Bushmaster AR-15, didn’t directly “entrust” the gun to Adam Lanza before his Sandy Hook killing spree, the scholars say. (The gun went from Remington to a distributor to a now-closed store where Lanza’s mother bought it.) “Where injury is a sufficiently foreseeable result of an entrustment, courts do not necessarily require that the defendant know the ultimate entrustee’s identity,” their brief said.
Injury was easily foreseeable because of the many mass shootings in the U.S. before 2012. Instead of taking precautions, the parents’ lawsuit says, the gun manufacturer marketed its military-style weapons with gusto to civilians — like Lanza — who were drawn to its pictures of soldiers on patrol and ad copy such things as saying, “Forces of opposition, bow down.”
Why should the maker be responsible for the misuse of its product? The lawsuit quotes studies by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms saying the unwieldy AR-15 is ill-suited to home defense and sporting. (Some hunters mock them as “spray and pray” guns.) “But there is one civilian activity in which the AR-15 reigns supreme: mass shootings,” the complaint says.
They are right in this: AR-15 style weapons were used in the Texas church shooting this month, the Las Vegas concert last month, the Orlando nightclub last year and Sandy Hook, where Adam Lanza sprayed 154 rounds in under five minutes. On Tuesday, a gunman said to be armed with a semiautomatic gun killed at least four people before he was killed by police.
The question that the Sandy Hook parents want a jury to look at is: What did the manufacturer do to mitigate the obvious risk of this weapon falling into the wrong hands? It’s a good question.
The hope is that the Connecticut Supreme Court agrees with the reasonableness of their argument and lets them sue. That would allow pretrial “discovery” — a look at memos, emails and other documents showing what the company knew. It was the discovery process that turned up the damaging internal memos that showed what Big Tobacco was hiding about their dangerous products.
There have been at least 1,552 mass shootings nationwide since that terrible day in 2012, according to Vox. Meanwhile, Congress has rejected one gun safety measure after another.
Congress won’t stop the slaughter. It prefers shielding the gun industry from lawsuits. May the Sandy Hook parents succeed in puncturing that shield.
The Cape Cod Times, Nov. 15
There are road races for cancer survivors, charity walks for the homeless, motorcycle rides for wounded warriors.
But 16-year-old Sarah Foley of Osterville organized a 5K race and walk on Nov. 19 to honor journalists.
Journalists? Those pesky people that President Trump calls the enemy of the people? Those nosy scribes who are about as popular as Congress?
No, Sarah is not raising money for the media. She is organizing the race to honor the memory of her second cousin, James Foley, who was murdered by ISIS while working as a journalist in Syria in 2014.
Proceeds from the race at the Barnstable High track will benefit the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, which advocates for the release of Americans being held hostage, improves the safety of freelance journalists, and promotes freedom of speech.
“I was inspired by his bravery,” Sarah said. “It was the ultimate sacrifice, to share the stories of those unable to” get the word out on their own.
Captured and then released by Libyan forces, the 40-year-old Foley returned to the Mideast to report from Syria, where he was kidnapped in 2012. ISIS released a video of his murder in 2014, horrifying the world with their brutality.
Sarah, 16, didn’t know Foley, but she has met his parents, John and Diane Foley, of Rochester, New Hampshire, during their regular visits to the Cape. John Foley is the first cousin of Sarah’s father, Thomas Foley.
“When Jim was in captivity, I always wanted to do something to help out,” Sarah said. She said organizing the race is her opportunity “to bring the Foley family a little bit of peace.”
Good for her, because Sarah is also shining a light on the dangers journalists face in war zones around the world. In fact, the spread of insurgent and criminal groups globally poses an unprecedented risk to journalists, including kidnapping for ransom or political gain. Insurgents often see journalists as surrogates of an enemy too powerful to attack directly. Journalists are also targeted by drug cartels as a warning to other unwelcome reporters.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 34 journalists have been killed so far in 2017, eight in Iraq alone. CPJ also identified at least 259 journalists in prison worldwide because of their work — the highest number recorded since the organization began its census in 1990.
Turkey alone was jailing at least 81 journalists in relation to their work. Like several other countries — including Western allies such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain — Turkey uses the cover of fighting terrorism or protecting national security to imprison its critics, especially journalists.
In four years, Egypt has gone from having no journalists behind bars to becoming the world’s third worst jailer of the press, with 25 imprisoned in 2016, many on bogus national security and terrorism-related charges.
“Repression and impunity endanger the lives and liberty of reporters and foster a climate of fear and self-censorship among journalists and opinion leaders, suppressing news of public interest,” according to the CPJ website. “This has consequences for all freedoms far beyond freedom of expression. A healthy democracy depends on the free flow of news and opinion to and from the governed. Journalists play a vital role in ensuring that flow and in holding the powerful to account.”
Today, there are some 40 active conflicts around the world and 65 million people have been forced from their homes, the first time forced displacements have topped 50 million since World War II, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. That’s a lot of stories in a lot of dangerous places.
In Syria, more than 100 journalists have been abducted since the start of the war, a number unmatched by any other conflict documented by CPJ.
Even in some functioning democracies, like Mexico, journalists are in peril from organized crime. CPJ has documented 26 confirmed journalist killings in Mexico in the past decade, many by drug traffickers or corrupt officials who did not want journalists shedding light on their business.
So we commend Sarah for organizing this race/walk to honor her second cousin and to benefit the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation.
The Providence Journal, Nov. 13
We all want our roads to be safe and our air to be clean. Keeping our cars well-maintained surely helps. But Rhode Island ignited something of a taxpayer rebellion when it threatened to slap a $250 fee on motorists for failing to get their cars inspected on time.
The Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles, aided by its new $20 million computer system, planned to start collecting that fee come Jan. 1.
This fee was already on the books, and has been for eight years. In essence, the law states that when a vehicle is not inspected in a timely manner, the DMV can suspend the vehicle’s registration. And once the registration is suspended, the agency can charge a $250 “restoration fee” to reinstate that registration.
In the past, the DMV didn’t collect the fee because its old computer system could not track vehicle inspections. The new computer system can, and the DMV has been sending out 7,000 letters a month to people who are late in getting their cars inspected. But a vehicle’s registration is not suspended until 65 days after the expiration of the old sticker. So people who fail to get a car inspected are being warned and have plenty of time to act.
Still, $250 seems excessive, especially to many Rhode Island workers living paycheck-to-paycheck. Depriving them of a vehicle would not do anyone much good, and motorists squawked to their elected officials.
Given the state’s budget problems — it faces a projected $240 million budget hole in the fiscal year that begins next July 1 — the plan to start charging the restoration fee, expected to generate $2.5 million, also had the odor of a money grab.
Gov. Gina Raimondo listened. After talking with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who said the fee could be devastating to “regular folks who tend to drive older cars and have to spend a lot of money to get them inspected,” Ms. Raimondo told the DMV to scrap its plans to start collecting the fee. Given that directive, said DMV spokesman Paul Grimaldi, the agency will “hold off on enforcement until the General Assembly gives us direction.”
The delay clearly flies in the face of a duly passed law mandating collection of the fee. But if the governor, the legislature and most of the public want to look the other way, who will compel the law’s enforcement?
Mr. Mattiello’s spokesman, Larry Berman, said the speaker will recommend that the law be amended next year “so that if a registration is suspended for lack of compliance on an inspection sticker, the $250 reinstatement fee will not apply for that offense.”
It would be useful for legislators to know: Exactly why are these deadlines being ignored? Are people simply distracted, or unable to afford repairs to pass inspection? Is anyone keeping an eye on the stations requiring costly work?
A careful consideration of the fee seems in order. As Mr. Mattiello pointed out, people who fail to get a car inspected on time are already subject to an $85 fine, as well as the possible suspension of their registration, if they are pulled over.
Of course, it is in everybody’s interest that motorists get their cars inspected in a timely manner and keep them in safe condition. And perhaps a penalty would encourage that. But the number ought to be reasonable.
The Portland Press Herald, Nov. 17
If you’re completely confident that your money and personal information are safe in the hands of the financial services industry — and if you don’t have a credit card, a mortgage, a student loan or a bank account — there’s no need for concern about the resignation of the nation’s top consumer advocate.
The rest of us, on the other hand, should be very worried about the near-certainty that the next head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be someone bent on gutting it rather than ensuring that it’s better equipped to do its job.
Richard Cordray’s announcement Wednesday that he plans to step down by the end of the month follows a tumultuous first six years for the bureau, the only federal agency solely dedicated to protecting Americans from harmful banking and lending practices.
Banks, mortgage companies, credit card issuers and their Republican allies in Washington have long been critical of the bureau, but their efforts to weaken its oversight of unfair, illegal or predatory practices didn’t pay off until Donald Trump was in office.
The Trump administration’s approach to financial regulation can be summed up in three words: Foxes, meet henhouse. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, a tea party Republican who’s tried to kill the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, could be appointed its acting director as soon as Friday — the day after Joseph Otting, a former banker who was investigated over his bank’s home foreclosure practices, was confirmed as the leading regulator of large national lenders.
Former Wall Street lawyers Jay Clayton and Randal Quarles, the industry insiders nominated, respectively, to run the Securities and Exchange Commission and oversee Wall Street’s largest banks, had already gotten the green light from the Senate.
Maine’s two senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, should push back early and often against efforts by the White House to replace Cordray as permanent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director with a figurehead who would stand by quietly as Congress repeals the bureau’s consumer complaint system, reduces its ability to make rules and bars it from penalizing the institutions it regulates — among other proposals to neuter the agency.
The bureau has been a much-needed champion for the average American. It played a key role in investigating Wells Fargo for creating millions of fake customer accounts and fined the bank $185 million. It’s returned $60 million to service members charged excess interest on student loans; military families dealing with illegal foreclosures and predatory lenders have gotten back $120 million.
All told, about 29 million Americans have gotten back nearly $12 billion as a result of the bureau’s efforts. If Maine’s senators help put in place someone whose goal is to undo these safeguards, the people who stand to lose out — their constituents — should be prepared to hold them accountable.
The Concord Monitor, Nov. 16
Dear men of America:
Assume that the person who refills your coffee cup prefers that you call her by name, not “Sweetie,” ″Honey,” ″Darling” or “Cutie.”
Assume that your co-worker’s self-esteem will be just fine if you refrain from telling her how beautiful or sexy she looks.
Assume that telling someone she should be a model will not be taken as thoughtful career advice.
Assume that the person you pass on the street will not find it flattering to be whistled at or ogled.
Assume that the person sitting a few tables away would be deeply unsettled if she knew you were staring at her.
Assume that commenting on any part of a woman’s body, no matter how complimentary, would be inappropriate and creepy.
Assume that when you shake a woman’s hand, she doesn’t want you to keep holding on to it.
Assume that no woman would be titillated by stories of your past sexual experiences or the kind of pornography you like to watch.
Assume that the person next to you very much does not want you to place your hand on any part of her body.
Assume that the way a woman chooses to dress is about fashion, not sex.
Assume that just because a person is friendly and kind, and laughs at your jokes, doesn’t mean she is attracted to you.
Assume that when a woman says “No,” that is precisely what she means.
Assume that there is not a woman alive who wants to receive an unsolicited photo of your penis or watch you masturbate.
Assume that if you use your position of power to pressure someone into a sexual relationship they don’t want, it will destroy lives.
Assume that when a woman resists your come-ons, she is being sincere and not playing hard to get.
Assume that groping is no more acceptable when you are 80 than it was when you were 20 or 40.
Assume that women who are young enough to be your daughter or granddaughter would be repulsed by your flirting, no matter how innocent you try to make it seem.
Assume that if a woman was attracted to you and wanted to have sex, she would convey those feelings to you in a direct and unambiguous way.
If you make these assumptions (along with many, many related assumptions), every now and then you might be incorrect — but you won’t be wrong.
The Times Argus, Nov. 17
Those who view Donald Trump as a danger to democracy and a stain on the presidency may have taken some satisfaction in the latest signs that special prosecutor Robert Mueller may be closing in on a Trump criminal conspiracy. One of those signs was news that communications between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks have fallen into the prosecutor’s hands.
And yet even if impeachment, resignation or disaster at the polls ends or further disables the Trump presidency, the meaning of Trump will linger. Trump is a uniquely malignant individual, demonstrating daily how ill-suited he is to the presidency. But liberals happy to witness his political demise must recognize that Trumpism may endure long after Trump, and they need to be ready to counter it.
The Republican establishment has bemoaned the rise of a figure so hostile to them who has undermined norms of honesty and decency. But the dark strain of extremism has dwelled within the body of the GOP for decades; what’s different now is that the immune system that allowed the establishment to resist the virus of extremism had grown so weak by 2016, that the virus took over.
Republican extremism has found many champions in the post-World War II era, starting with Sen. Joseph McCarthy, for whom the McCarthy era of paranoia and character assassination was named. With the dawn of the civil rights movement, those hostile to progress on racial equality found a home in the Republican Party. Barry Goldwater, the extremist who was the party’s presidential candidate in 1964, opposed the civil rights and voting rights acts, and Republicans quickly learned how to harness the energy of the white backlash.
It is noteworthy that a young Donald Trump used as a mentor Roy Cohn, the ruthless lawyer who was an adviser to Joe McCarthy. For Cohn and Trump, politics was blood sport. It had nothing to do with values. It was all about power.
Goldwater endured a cataclysmic defeat, and for a time the Democrats were riding high. But Ronald Reagan’s conservatism drew on many of the cultural touchstones identified by Goldwater, and in the wake of the failures of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, Reagan was ready to bring Goldwater-style conservatism to the White House.
Reagan presented a sunny image, but the dark strain was still present. It took form in the presidential campaigns of Patrick Buchanan, a nativist, anti-immigration, anti-big-government conservative who was a precursor to Trump. Buchanan was a dark and angry figure. Then came Newt Gingrich, who used a newly ruthless style of partisanship to become House speaker. In the style of the demagogue, Gingrich always managed to find an enemy to target — Muslims, homosexuals, immigrants. A principal enemy was the federal government itself. It became a Republican aim to “starve the beast,” a phrase meant to describe the nihilistic defunding and destruction of the government.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser, came to embody that sort of nihilism. He has acknowledged wanting to destroy the government and has compared himself to Lenin. The actions of the present Congress suggest it is in line with his thinking. If proposed tax cut s create huge deficits, then Congress might starve the beast in response — slashing spending on health care and other entitlements.
Even if Trump were suddenly gone from the scene, this strain of thinking would still be there. In foreign affairs, Trumpian ideas have adherents in people like Sen. Tom Cotton, the young Arkansan who would like to destroy the nuclear agreement with Iran. Trump has successfully pursued a foreign policy that might well have been dictated by Vladimir Putin, pulling the United States back from its leadership role in the world and leaving the f ield open to the rise of China and the mischief of Russia, Syria, the Philippines and other outlaw states.
If Republicans and Democrats cannot find a way to revive the U.S. role as champion of democratic values and promoter of free trade, then Trumpian nihilism will prevail for years. Robert Mueller cannot save the republic if the American people do not see that that job really belongs to them.