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Editorials from around New England

December 29, 2017

Editorials from around New England:

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CONNECTICUT

The Journal Inquirer, Dec. 22

Senate Republican President Pro Tempore Len Fasano is a respected member of the state’s GOP. But the senator, as seen by his essay that appears elsewhere on this page, seems to believe that any question asked of him about the national Republican Party is not his concern.

Fasano has disagreed with President Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim comments in the past, and even refused to be a Trump delegate at the Republican National Convention. He is exactly the kind of moderate the Republican Party needs to counter the extremism in its national leadership. So we do not agree with him that national issues are not his problem.

The JI recognizes that Fasano is an important Connecticut Republican leader and has questioned him many times about state and national issues.

We have asked why his latest state budget, which he declared to be balanced, turned out to be $200 million in deficit, as predicted by Gov. Dannel Malloy. When Fasano and his legislative allies couldn’t remedy this deficit, he and his co-budget makers tossed the deficit problem over to the governor to be solved. And then, of course, Fasano criticized the governor’s proposals to find the $200 million to erase that deficit.

Beyond that, however, as a prominent state leader Fasano has a role in national Republican politics and should be willing to share his input with Connecticut residents. Our readers want to know Fasano’s stance on national issues that affect Connecticut.

For example, where does he stand on the action of the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives that could prevent Connecticut from enforcing its state laws against concealed carry of weapons? Yes, the House measure would overrule our state law.

And what is his mindset on the new tax law passed by a Republican Congress that will affect Connecticut citizens represented by Fasano? Or what is his stance regarding sanctuary laws and DACA children threatened by Trump’s regulatory revisions?

Connecticut citizens are affected by all these actions. That is why the JI believes Fasano should disclose his position on all issues — both state and national — that impact Connecticut residents.

We do not think it is unfair to ask.

Before the presidential election Fasano refused to answer questions about candidate Trump from the Hartford Courant. He was quoted as saying that he resented constant attempts by the Courant to “ask me to respond to Trump’s comments every time they end up in a national headline.”

But that “ostrich” approach — restricting himself to state problems while putting his head in the sand to avoid thinking about federal actions that affect Connecticut — only shows a lack of understanding of the influence that federal regulations and laws directly have on our state.

The JI craves openness from government and from those who represent it. And Fasano, as a government official, should not avoid expressing his honest opinions on all issues that concern the state’s citizens.

We hope Fasano will change his mind and respond to questioning by the Journal Inquirer and other media representatives. His leadership is needed to rejuvenate the moderate wing of his party.

We also give fair warning to Fasano that the JI will continue to question him on local, state, and national issues that affect our readership. We hope the senator will lead the way in breaking through that “wall of silence” he has created, as the people of Connecticut are entitled to know the positions of their elected officials on all matters that affect them.

Online: http://bit.ly/2C7KE54

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MASSACHUSETTS

The (Springfield) Republican, Dec. 27

There’s a famous line in the animated classic “Aladdin,” where the star extends a hand to his true love and asks, “Do you trust me?”

The American public can ask itself that question about Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose government is offering itself as mediator between the United States and North Korea.

Can we trust the Russians? That’s an easy one. No. But using the Russians as a mediator should not be automatically dismissed, either.

Russia’s offer comes with a mountain of risk for the United States, whose mistrust of its superpower rival is ingrained. Evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election has added a new dimension to an old rivalry for global influence.

Throughout the 20th and 21st Century, the two nations have co-existed, sometimes more amicably than others. But they have never been trusted friends, even during the Reagan-Gorbachev era of glasnost and the fall of the Soviet Union.

Yet Russia’s offer must be taken seriously, if only because the alternative is terrifying. The U.S. and North Korea are engaged in a dangerous game of chicken, with hubris and flame-throwing rhetoric on each side taking the place of meaningful diplomacy.

Assuming this war of words between nuclear nations can continue without end, and not lead to a horrific confrontation, is a dangerous form of wishful thinking. President Trump’s demand that the North Koreans eliminate their nuclear arsenal before talks can begin is sound in theory, but it’s impossible to enforce and unrealistic to expect.

The Russians would score a huge diplomatic victory by mediating talks that result in an easing of tensions. Putin (who would not necessarily be the mediator, but is no doubt pulling the strings) envisions his country replacing the United States as the globe’s leading arbiter and guardian of peace — at least in the eyes of nations that have traditionally looked to the U.S. for that role.

But there is too much at stake, and tensions are too real, for posturing to determine U.S. strategy. The North Koreans won’t trust Western mediators or the United Nations. North Korea is so isolated that it has no candidate of its own, and the U.S. would not trust one if it did.

That leaves Russia, a powerful nation with ties to both camps, in a unique position. Any serious negotiation would have to adhere to specific, predetermined rules and if those were not acceptable to the U.S., no mediator would have any worthwhile effect.

Democrats should consider the Russian option because they are terrified of Trump’s belligerent, freelancing way of handling this delicate situation alone. Republicans should consider it because they’ve been giving the Russians a free pass on alleged election meddling, which implies they trust Putin to at least some degree.

The last person who could claim to mistrust Russia is Trump, who said he believes Putin’s denials of election tampering. Trump’s willingness to look at Russia as a partner and not an adversary in the business of global diplomacy has been unmistakable, even as opponents have warned such a union would naively risk national security.

If Trump sticks to his demand for North Korean disarmament, there’s no reason to think a genuine negotiation will ever occur. Another sticking point is Russia’s stated belief that it’s the United States, as the bigger and more powerful nation, to “be the better person” and initiate the dialogue.

But, if Russian mediation is the only alternative to the continued threats between two nuclear nations, it has to be considered — if only because the other option of global chicken is dangerous, frightening and no solution to a crisis that threatens the world.

Online: http://bit.ly/2E8NDuO

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal, Dec. 26

Approximately 1.8 million adolescents in the United States have been victims of sexual assault. That number is too large to fathom; a statistic. But it is 1.8 million stories, tragedies and injustices; 1.8 million children we failed to protect.

The horror of child abuse was in the public’s mind again last week with news of the death of Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law, who for years protected priests who molested children from facing charges. Few tears have been wept for the disgraced cardinal. Indeed, cries of rage rang out because the Vatican provided him with the standard — i.e., full and honorable — funeral of a cardinal.

To many ears, that was the sound of the church saying, we don’t care. We don’t care that Cardinal Law effectively helped those wearing a clerical collar to rape or molest children. We don’t care that his actions resulted in the silencing of many, many victims, when even one would be an unthinkable crime. We don’t care that priests who were known to abuse children were simply retrained and reassigned, where they continued to harm children.

But the church, of course, performs burial rites for saints and for sinners, for those who succeeded in positions of high responsibility and for those who failed their flock miserably. In the church’s view, God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, is best suited to judge the deceased’s eternal fate.

In 2001, Cardinal Law was exposed as having covered up child molestation by priests, in particular, John Geoghan, who despite a clear pattern of abuse was moved to new parishes when accused, where he continued his crimes against children. The clear exposure of this pattern of silencing families and moving predatory priests rather than seeking true justice led to Cardinal Law’s resignation in 2002. He was not criminally prosecuted or defrocked for these horrifying misdeeds that led to immense suffering. He was simply reassigned to Rome.

But he became a figurehead for a systematic cover up of pedophiles in the Catholic Church. He was not the only one. He once accused the media of focusing on the “faults of a few.” We are still finding the “few” who preyed on the innocent.

But to a great extent, the news media’s spotlight on the sins of the Catholic Church does obscure the real picture. Statistically, priests are no more likely to abuse children than men in general. While Catholic priests have been stereotyped as predators, a 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that the number of children abused by teachers is probably 100 times that of those abused by priests, simply because teachers’ access to children is so much greater. And the explosion of single-parent households, a dramatic societal change of the last half century, puts children at significantly greater risk in some ways; they are vastly more likely to be sexually abused by a step-parent or a boyfriend than by a biological parent.

Thus pointing the finger at Cardinal Law and cursing his bones does not take us very far in protecting children.

We must do more. We must look honestly at the dangers children face in our society. We owe it to the children in our lives to give them the skills to understand dangerous situations and report crimes, and know that they will be taken seriously. And we must continue to prosecute those crimes.

Online: http://bit.ly/2lqjUVu

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VERMONT

The Rutland Herald, Dec. 28

We all know someone in our neighborhood who is vulnerable when the days turn cold. Sometimes it is an elderly friend or colleague, or it is a family struggling to make ends meet. More and more, we come upon hard cases where people might need help but are too proud to ask for it.

At a minimum, we all need to do our part to look after one another when subzero temperatures pose a danger to people and property. The forecast for the next week or so appears to be unyielding, with arctic air passing over the Northeast (and much of the nation), with wind chills expected to reach 20 to 30 degrees below zero in areas of the state.

And it’s still December.

In anticipation of this cold snap, the state Department of Health issued its customary warnings and advice.

First, staying warm. Those who need heating fuel assistance, housing or other needs can contact Vermont 211 (www.vermont211.org) by phone by simply dialing 2-1-1 (24 hours a day, seven days a week), or by texting your Zip code to 898211 to reach a call specialist (8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday).

Please note the following actions and take any steps necessary to keep yourself and your family safe. Hypothermia, frostbite and other hazards are a concern in these conditions and precautions are advised to ensure the safety of individuals and property.

—Check on older or disabled relatives, friends and neighbors to make sure they are keeping warm safely and have sufficient food and water.

—Make sure your car is properly winterized. Keep the gas tank at least half-full. Carry a Winter Emergency Car Kit in the trunk including blankets, extra clothing, flashlight with spare batteries, a can and waterproof matches (to melt snow for drinking water), non-perishable foods, windshield scraper, shovel, sand, towrope and jumper cables.

— Limit time outdoors. Minimize outside activities, particularly the elderly and very young.

—Be sure to consider your pets and limit their time outdoors, as well.

—Dress warmly and stay dry. Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing, rather than a single layer of heavy clothing. Wear a hat, mittens, and sturdy waterproof boots, protecting your extremities. Keep babies and older adults dry and in warm rooms.

—Eat and drink healthy. Well-balanced meals help you stay warmer. Drink warm fluids to maintain a healthy temperature. Alcohol and caffeinated beverages cause you to lose heat more rapidly.

—Avoid hypothermia and frostbite. Symptoms of frostbite include a loss of feeling and a pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. Hypothermia signs include shivering, exhaustion, slurred speech and — in infants — bright red, cold skin. If symptoms are detected, seek medical help immediately and get to a warm place. Slowly warm the affected areas as you await medical assistance.

—Have sufficient heating fuel for your home. Check your heating supply, whether it’s oil, propane, wood, wood chips, etc. If you need information on heating assistance, dial 2-1-1.

—Heat safely. If you lose your primary heat source, use only safe alternate sources like a fireplace, wood stove or space heater and ensure they are ventilating properly.

—Ventilate to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. If you use a generator, ensure it is used outside, away from open windows, doors or air intakes. Exhaust from a generator or heating source can cause a buildup of carbon monoxide in the home. Carbon monoxide is a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. CO poisoning can mimic flu-like symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue. Higher levels of exposure result in disorientation, drowsiness, unconsciousness and death. If you experience these symptoms, leave the home and contact help. Test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

—Ensure all heating vents are clear of snow or other obstructions. Blowing snow can block heating vents. Blocked vents can lead to CO buildup in the home.

—And as the old Boy Scout motto goes, be prepared. Have a well-stocked winter home emergency supply kit that includes flashlights, portable radio, extra batteries, a first aid kit, bottled water and nonperishable food.

Looking out for one another is not asking too much. In fact, it may be one of the easiest things we can do to extend kindness and be a bit more neighborly in these utterly turbulent, divisive times. We should all resolve to be better members of our community. And while these frigid days are the starkest reminder of what our role could (or should) be, let’s endeavor in the year to come to show the same compassion and kindness during the other, warmer weeks of the year, too.

Online: http://bit.ly/2zN1EL8

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

Concord Monitor, Dec. 27

Donald Trump, as a candidate and as president, has been great for cable television news shows. Viewers, driven by shock, horror or curiosity - “what did he do today and what will he do next” - have meant record ratings for Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. But watching the news means watching drug ads that sound something like this.

“One daily time-released dose of Stupenza will cure all that ails you. Contact your doctor if, while taking Stupenza, cerebral material starts trickling out your ears or one or more of your limbs has withered.”

The United States and New Zealand are the only nations that permit direct to consumer drug advertising. Drug ads were banned in the U.S. prior to 1997, but that year, the Clinton administration FDA approved drug ads as long as they contained what are now the breathlessly rushed, horrifying catalog of potential side effects. Pharmaceutical companies, which will spend some $8 billion on direct to consumer (DTC) advertising this year, claim the ads educate consumers and reduce the stigma of conditions like psoriasis, erectile dysfunction, toe fungus and loss of bladder control. Their claims are questionable at best. What they do is prompt more patients to request that their physician prescribe the televised medication and make money for drug companies.

The American Medical Association has called for a ban on DTC drug ads because they increase the demand for expensive drugs when cheaper alternatives might work as well. They also contribute to the phenomenal increase in drug prices. According to the National Academy of Sciences, drug companies now spend more on marketing and administration than they do on the research and development they point to justify ever-higher prices.

We too would like to see DTC drug ads banned, but realize that’s not about to happen. Big pharma ranks third behind the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Realtors in spending on lobbyists, according to the Washington Post. Congress, especially a Republican-controlled Congress isn’t about to poke that industry in the eye with a law that trims its profits. A ban would also be challenged on First Amendment grounds and the industry would likely prevail in court.

What Congress could and should do, and we realize the current Congress won’t, is eliminate the drug industry’s ability to write off its billions in advertising spending as a business expense. That practice forces taxpayers to underwrite the very advertising that most people wish would disappear from their TV screen.

The drug industry targets most of its advertising to older viewers because they are more likely to suffer from one or more maladies. They are also the ones watching TV. According to the Nielsen rating service, viewers over age 50 on average watch 39 hours and 35 minutes of TV per week and those over age 65 log 48 hours of big screen time weekly. Millennials age 25 to 34 log just 18-plus hours and teens just under 12 hours of traditional TV viewing.

A ban on DTC drug advertising, probably one with bipartisan support, might be enacted if declines in TV viewership lead drug companies to find a way to place their ads on laptops, tablets and cell phones. Will that happen? It depends.

Online: http://bit.ly/2zMAvIj

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MAINE

The Bangor Daily News, Dec. 26

Like the state’s county jails and prisons, the Long Creek Youth Development Center has become a warehouse for young Mainers with mental illness. Predictably, it is failing to develop, let alone protect the safety of, the children who are housed there.

“Any outside observer should see the number of suicide attempts and self-harming gestures as clear evidence of the inappropriateness of Long Creek as a placement for many youth,” an independent group concluded after its assessment of the facility in South Portland.

Eighty-five percent of the youth committed to Long Creek had three or more diagnosed mental health conditions and roughly four in 10 had spent time in a residential mental health treatment facility before being sent to the detention facility. At Long Creek, these children are not getting the mental health services they need nor are they receiving legally required educational services.

Last October, a mentally ill transgender boy hanged himself while on suicide watch at Long Creek. Not long after that, corrections officials began to publicly acknowledge that the center cannot handle its large population of mentally ill inmates, which includes other young people who have tried to kill or hurt themselves. About a third of detainees at Long Creek are sent there by mental health facilities, a breakdown of that system as well.

The state has been working for decades to improve juvenile detention, and that work is ongoing with a welcome, but vague, announcement last week that many of the facility’s detainees will be moved to small, regional psychiatric facilities beginning in the spring. There have been successes — the number of juveniles being held has been cut in half in the last decade, the detention of low-risk offenders has essentially ended and graduation rates have risen.

However, continuing to hold children in an unsafe, inappropriate and expensive facility — it costs $250,000 a year per inmate at Long Creek — is a colossal failure that is harming these youths and wasting limited taxpayer resources.

Rather than seek to improve Long Creek, Maine needs to move to a new system that emphasizes treatment and that keeps kids in the community, preferably their own. There are many models, which are working in other states, that Maine can follow as it begins the work announced by Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick last week. An analysis of the state’s services for youth, including state and private sector programs, should guide this work to ensure coordination between programs and emphasize those that are working.

A first step is to move juvenile justice services out of the Department of Corrections.

Maine is one of just a few states where juvenile detention and rehabilitation is overseen by the Department of Corrections. In most states, these youths are in programs and facilities run by family and health departments. This is important because despite increasing emphasis on mental health, corrections departments are built largely on a model of punishment as a means of rehabilitation.

Nationally, states are moving away from warehousing juveniles in large detention facilities. Illinois and Kansas have closed such facilities, and Connecticut is poised to do so. Missouri and Massachusetts house small numbers of children is small facilities with a focus on therapeutic treatment.

The biggest change must be one of mindset. Gov. Paul LePage and his administration have made it clear that improving the lives of people living in poverty and with addiction and mental illness are a low priority. Staffing shortages and lack of direction and coordination at Long Creek mirror similar problems at the state-run Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. Nor has the administration prioritized improving the state’s corrections system, which is heavily reliant on underfunded county jails.

The Center for Children’s Law and Policy, which reviewed operations and conditions at Long Creek at the behest of the state’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, found that the facility’s low staffing and high population of teens with mental illness have created “dangerous and harmful conditions.”

Because the facility is understaffed, employees there worked more than 5,400 hours of overtime during the first nine months of the year. This led to burnout, turnover and lack of coordination and consistency in how the children held there were treated. As a result, both staff and detainees are put at risk of violence and injury.

This is nearly identical to the findings in a report on conditions at Riverview. The problems there were improved when the Department of Health and Human Services got serious about filling staff vacancies.

The same kind of commitment is needed now to overhaul the state’s juvenile justice system.

Online: http://bit.ly/2Ee83To

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