Editorials from around New England

July 6, 2018

Editorials from around New England:



The Connecticut Post

July 1

The editorial page of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, was mostly blank Friday. Where usually a lively editorial and other sharp opinion writings would appear, only a few words set root in the middle of the vast expanse of white.

“Today, we are speechless. This page is intentionally left blank to commemorate victims of Thursday’s shootings at our office.”

It named the five colleagues who died, leading with Editorial Page Editor Gerald Fischman, who in his 26 years at the newspaper was known for his insightful editorials about the community.

“Tomorrow this page will return to its steady purpose of offering our readers informed opinion about the world around them, that they might be better citizens.”

That is the purpose of editorial pages of newspapers in this country, a responsibility we take seriously.

The shooting resonates with us because we, too, are community newspapers. Newsrooms, like churches and schools, are the bedrocks of towns across America.

Our journalists routinely deal with disgruntled members of the public. Occasionally threats become part of the job. Those threats can come from anyone displeased with how they are represented in the media. They can be routine sports stories or features, but are more often accounts of alleged criminal activity. Sometimes we editorial page editors receive physical threats over differences of opinion.

In the wake of the Thursday shooting, the national conversation quickly strayed to whether President Donald Trump had fueled such actions by declaring the media “The enemy of the American people.”

The president should not be blamed for the actions of the alleged shooter — who had personal motives against the newspaper long before Trump took office. But irresponsible comments, such as calling the mainstream media “a stain on America,” can embolden people to act on their twisted agendas.

On Friday the president took a more compassionate approach in condemning the shootings and saying, “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their jobs.”

It is natural for anyone — at any workplace or school or concert or church or dance hall or movie theater or shopping center — to worry “could it happen here?” It could. With 195 mass shootings occurring, as of Friday according to MassShootingTracker.org, in the 180 days of this year, it could happen anywhere.

We can’t live our lives in fear, but neither can we become inured to the senselessness of shooting after shooting. We must question — what is it about our culture that compels a disturbed person to reach for a gun to resolve an issue? What contributes to making our society violent, and how can that paradigm shift to a more civilized existence?

Hours after their newsroom was ambushed and five colleagues died, reporters and editors determinedly went back to work so the newspaper could come out.

There’s nothing “fake news” about journalists across the nation who give voice to their communities. As we mark our nation’s birthday this week, we implore our fellow Americans to elevate the discourse, to present a united resistance to the pursuit of resolutions through violence.

Online: https://bit.ly/2IYSlwg



The Cape Cod Times

July 5

When is local truly local?

It may seem like a ridiculous question, especially in a part of the world where buyers can literally see a fish come off the boat at the dock, but a recent investigation by The Associated Press revealed that consumers do not always get what they are promised. And for those who are paying a premium, believing they are behaving in an environmentally sound and locally beneficial manner, the truth comes as a slap in the face.

The AP investigation focused on Sea to Table, a rising star in the niche market of sustainably harvested fish. The company’s hook was that it promised buyers that the fish they provided was caught locally, and that their suppliers used an environmentally friendly approach. The company flourished, boasting that its annual sales of $13 million would jump to $70 million within two years. To do this, the company relies on a network of distributors who provide a wide variety of seafood.

But at least one of those distributors was not playing by the rules. AP reporters staked out a dock in Montauk, New York, the supposed source of a shipment of tuna that had been used as appetizers at the inaugural ball for Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington. The caterers of the event were particularly concerned with the sourcing of their seafood because Inslee had himself promoted and then signed into law a measure designed to fight the mislabeling of seafood.

The only problem was that no tuna - not a single fish - had been landed in Montauk. The tuna served at Inslee’s event had actually been caught off the coast of North Carolina and then trucked 700 miles to New York.

The AP report also uncovered falsified information concerning the origin of other products, including the harvesting of fish out of season, the import of fish from as far away as Vietnam, and the use of farmed products that were mislabeled as being wild in origin. As a result of the investigation, several of Sea to Table’s customers have terminated their contracts with the company, and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, has called on the Federal Trade Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to open investigations into the company’s practices.

Sea to Table owner Sean Dimin contends that the AP investigation focuses on only one of the company’s suppliers, calling the story “sensationalized.” He claimed that Sea to Table remains committed to its promise of sustainable fish, and pledged that measures would be taken to terminate any suppliers who did not comply with Sea to Table’s strict guidelines.

However, Dimin also claimed that he told buyers that just because some of the company’s products were listed as coming from one location did not mean that they actually originated there. Asked about this by AP reporters, customers responded that they had been told no such thing, and even if it were true, federal regulators have strict rules about purposely mislabeling food products.

In the end, the Sea to Table case taints an entire industry that has grown up around sustainable practices. Many consumers are willing to pay top dollar for sustainably harvested food, but stories such as this sow doubt about the veracity of such claims.

Then there is the plight of some of the actual fishermen responsible for catching Sea to Table’s fish — individuals in places such as Vietnam who live in conditions barely above slavery, all so restaurant goers in wealthy developed nations can have access to select fish, while thinking they are doing the responsible thing.

Finally, there are the local victims — those in the industry, including many on Cape Cod, who are committed to creating fisheries that are sustainable from both an environmental and economic standpoint. These are the men and women who recognize that humans cannot continue as they have in the past, plundering natural resources and believing that nature will continuously regenerate and provide. The AP estimates that one of every five fish is caught illegally. Neither we, nor the planet, can long endure such practices, nor can we tolerate those who would exploit what should be our instinctive desire to do the right thing.

Online: https://bit.ly/2lZgv0w



The Providence Journal

July 4

No session of the General Assembly ends with a perfect record, but the 2018 session did produce some victories, and one of them was the approval of a plan that could finally provide some of the money needed to fix Rhode Island’s public school buildings.

These buildings, as a study revealed last year, fall short by many measures. There are heating and lighting concerns, there are educational concerns, there are safety concerns. According to last year’s study, addressing all the serious deficiencies would cost $2.2 billion, and just making the buildings warm, safe and dry would cost $628 million.

The plan, which now goes before voters on the November ballot, will not address all of these concerns. If approved by voters, it would allow the state to borrow $250 million, which would go to cities and towns that choose to participate and contribute to the costs. Then, if all goes as planned, a second $250 million bond would go before voters in 2022.

But even as a partial fix, this plan would provide the largest-ever investment in the state’s school buildings, and this work is long overdue. The stories have been told many times about schools with drafty windows, antiquated science labs and leaky roofs, as well as collapsing ceilings.

Of course, fixing school buildings won’t solve all of Rhode Island’s educational ills. But we also know that sending children to buildings that lack standard 21st-century amenities only hurts the cause.

Apart from the obvious need, there is much to like about this plan.

For starters, districts will be encouraged to spend wisely. They will, for instance, be urged to close schools that are no longer needed and think hard about which projects should be a priority. The plan also requires them to commit to maintaining their buildings, which tends to be the last priority come budget time. This approach would help to ensure that the public investment made in these buildings is a lasting one.

For those who wonder about the cost of all this work and the state’s ability to pay, the good news is that the new debt will be offset by the retirement of older debt that the state is paying off. In fact, as General Treasurer Seth Magaziner wrote on these pages (“Borrow $250M for schools,” Commentary, June 2), even as the state borrows this money to fix its schools, its overall debt burden will go down.

Voters who still question the wisdom of this plan might also want to consider the importance of schools to the state’s economy. One of the key considerations for employers as they decide where to locate is the health of the schools and the availability of a strong pool of workers. This means that the better Rhode Island’s students are prepared for college and the working world, the better positioned the state will be to draw more employers and help those that are here to grow.

In other words, voter approval of the plan would be a win-win for all.

Online: https://bit.ly/2ubprnc



The Bangor Daily News

July 5

President Donald Trump’s former chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, spoke out against his former boss’ trade policies recently. He said the result of Trump’s trade war with China as well as traditional U.S. allies could cancel out the economic benefits of the Republican tax cut package that passed last year.

“If you end up with a tariff battle, you will end up with price inflation, and you could end up with consumer debt,” Cohn, who served as director of the National Economic Council in the Trump White House until March, told The Washington Post last month. “Those are all historic ingredients for an economic slowdown.”

It’s heartening to see a former member of team Trump speak out against the president’s reckless trade policies. Certainly, those policies pose some danger to economic growth and could very well cancel out any economic benefit from the tax cuts, which were not widespread.

It’s worth noting, however, that the tax cut package doesn’t offer an unqualified benefit to the nation. In fact, only 4 percent of American workers have received raises or bonuses tied to the tax cuts.

This is reinforced by a recent analysis of the tax cut package from four experts at the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center. They tried to assess the package’s overall effects, both short-term and long-term.

The experts conclude the tax cuts offer some economic stimulus in the short term, and that any stimulus shrinks over time. The tax cuts will lead to greater after-tax income, the analysts note, but the benefits will be unevenly distributed: The top 1 percent of households will see a significantly greater benefit than the bottom 20 percent.

The top 20 percent of households will see their after-tax income rise by 2.9 percent on average, the economists estimate. The income bump, on average, for the bottom fifth of households will be just 0.4 percent. The top 1 percent of households, they estimate, will see a 3.4 percent income bump; the next 4 percent of households will see their after-tax income rise the most: by 4 percent.

The important consideration, however, is how the country pays for tax cuts that stand to balloon the federal deficit and the national debt. That’s, perhaps, the most significant unanswered question.

Increased borrowing to finance the national debt, the experts note, will increase the costs of borrowing overall, raising interest rates for everybody else who needs to borrow money. If policymakers finance the tax cuts by cutting federal spending, the tax cuts’ benefit likely turns into a liability.

The authors lay out the consequences of the policy in stark terms in the introduction to their paper:

The tax cut legislation “will make the distribution of after-tax income more unequal. If it is not financed with concurrent spending cuts or other tax increases, (the Tax Cut and Jobs Act) will raise federal debt and impose burdens on future generations. If it is financed with spending cuts or other tax increases, TCJA will, under the most plausible scenarios, end up making most households worse off than if it had not been enacted.”

In other words, Republicans passed the tax cut package in hopes of having something to show voters and their campaign donors from two years of controlling all three branches of the federal government.

Perhaps the GOP will garner a political benefit. But the party’s short-term political benefit, under any plausible scenario, appears likely to come at the expense of most of the voters who would be delivering that benefit.

Online: https://bit.ly/2u9BEsU



The Times Argus

July 4

Louis Brandeis, an adviser to President Woodrow Wilson, once wrote, “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

Since the last presidential election cycle, this concept has become even more pronounced. President Donald Trump was attacked for his wealth and elitism. Bernie Sanders used the growing chasm in the middle class as the backbone of his 2016 bid, forcing other Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, several notches to the left to places they were not necessarily comfortable with in the debate over America’s biggest problems.

Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, also has used the plight of everyday Americans to form Our Revolution, an effort to convey the “in-your-face” truths that Democrats and progressives like Sanders can use to get elected in local and state races nationwide.

Meanwhile, Trump, a Republican with close ties to the 1 percent, is imposing as president orders to undo liberal agendas and promote capitalism. Trump says he is “Making America great again.” Sanders and his followers say they are creating “A future to believe in.”

While there has been no official announcement, Sanders seems poised to make another run at the White House in 2020.

In the meantime, the real question has become: Where does all of this political swordsmanship leave Americans struggling to make ends meet? Look no further than Vermont.

While our population has changed little in decades — hovering around 625,000 residents, comparable in size to many small cities in America — the fiscal demands on state services have gone up. The Agency of Human Services alone has seen an exponential increase in its seven departments, including corrections and health over just 15 years.

According to U.S. Census data, Vermont’s median income has remained somewhat unchanged to other states, while housing and health care costs are growing at rates that exceed inflation by as much as five or six times.

The jobless rate has been improving in Vermont, yet there is a bubble of service and seasonal jobs that affects and skews the unemployment figures. Plus, businesses around the state are having a hard time finding qualified candidates (or people willing to work for entry-level wages). Meanwhile, the Scott administration, like its predecessors in the terms of governors James Douglas and Peter Shumlin, are throwing out incentives to lure businesses and families to Vermont to help expand the tax base and grow the economy.

And those are the high points of this state’s struggle. You can mine down into nearly every sector or policy and find long lists of challenges.

Hedrick Smith, the renowned journalist and public speaker, has been touring the U.S. since his book “Who Stole The American Dream?” came out in 2012. He was a recent guest in Vermont, at the behest of the Vermont Humanities Council.

Smith, who won the Pulitzer Prize, uses his reporting skills to provide an engaging — and fact-filled — analysis of how a series of seismic changes over 40 years “dismantled” the American Dream. He looks at how laws, policies, trends and even pop culture have swayed attitudes and public opinion.

In fact, Smith was talking about the 1 percent, or more aptly, the 99 percent long before Sanders made it a campaign theme.

Smith writes, “We are at a defining moment for America. We cannot allow the slow, poisonous polarization and disintegration of our great democracy to continue. We must come together and take action to rejuvenate our nation and to restore fairness and hope in a way of life. We see the challenge. It is now time: We the People must take action.”

These days, we are seeing an uprising in America. More people are standing up and showing up for protests. They are reaching out to lawmakers. They are using social media to broadcast agendas and messages. Not all of it has yielded the results the movements have sought, but the needle is, indeed, moving.

Here in Vermont, we can take a page from Smith. We can urge lawmakers and administration officials to re-examine policies and set priorities that move Vermont in a more prosperous, productive direction. But we cannot leave it up to them. The public needs to provide input, whether it is asked for or not. We need ideas and strategies. We need thoughtful, open discussions and debates.

We need answers. Armed with facts and realistic goals, we can shift the culture, and move the needle.

Online: https://bit.ly/2zgtiW6



The Portsmouth Herald

July 6

Kudos to local restaurants, schools and environmental groups taking part in the national Skip the Straw campaign, working to make a small but meaningful difference right here on the Seacoast.

We were heartened to see restaurants such as Las Olas in Exeter move to paper straws and others like Lexie’s, Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Café and The Green Elephant going to straws on request.

Students at Main Street School in Exeter have taken on the cause by educating and encouraging their community to go strawless and at Rye Elementary School, the school went straw-free for an entire month to show just how easy it is to give them up.

Environmental groups like Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, Plastic Free 603 and Sustainable Seacoast deserve the credit for spreading this campaign locally, educating the public about the impact plastic straws have on animals and oceans.

The anti-straw campaign has been around for more than a decade with different names such as “Last Straw” and “OneLessStraw.”

It picked up momentum after a 2015 YouTube video went viral showing a marine biologist using a tool to pull a straw that got stuck in the nose of a sea turtle. The painful to watch 8-minute video captures the turtle squealing in pain as the straw is pulled from its bloody nostril. The video so far has been viewed more than 30 million times.

Plastic, in general, is a cause for concern as it does not easily degrade. The majority of plastics end up in a landfill or the ocean.

According to a study published in the journal Science, 8 million metric tons (1 metric ton equals 2,205 pounds) of plastic ended up in the world’s oceans in 2010. A disputed 2015 study stated that if nothing is done, plastic will outweigh all the fish in the oceans by 2050.

Why target just straws? That is the brilliance of the campaign. Straws are unnecessary because you don’t need one to consume a beverage. It’s also a product that you can easily live without or replace with paper straws or reusable glass ones.

Jen Kennedy, CEO of the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, says the small slender plastic tube you use “for 20 minutes will last forever in the environment.” It’s also one of the top 10 items they collect during their beach cleanups and poses a significant danger to marine life.

Kennedy said her organization picked up 2,305 straws on area beaches last year, with nearly half of those at Hampton Beach.

Kennedy said plastic kills marine life partially because of strangulation or choking. It also releases toxic chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA) when it breaks down.

According to OneLessStraw campaign, each year 100,000 marine animals and more than 1 million sea birds die from ingesting plastic.

If that doesn’t convince you to give up the straw, then maybe this will. According to dietitian Christy Brissette, plastic straws can be bad for your health. In a Washington Post column, she noted plastic straws cause gas and bloating, cavities and can “lead to the same wrinkles that smokers get around their mouths.”

For those who feel strongly about the cause, the Blue Ocean Society has a list on its website of area restaurants that are supporting straws on demand or paper straws.

Support restaurants doing their part in helping out the environment and do your part by choosing to Skip the Straw.

Online: https://bit.ly/2MUBrl4

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