Editorials from around New England
Editorials from around New England:
Recent events illustrate, more than anything else does, that the Connecticut Republican Party’s high command always should emphasize success in legislative elections.
Republicans suffered devastating losses in last week’s legislative contests. Come January, Democrats will control as many as 24 seats in the 36-member Senate, while they will have up to 92 seats in the 151-member House, the Republican-American reported Nov. 12. Republican successes in the 2014 and 2016 elections led to a tie in the Senate and an 80-71 Democratic advantage in the House.
The above Republican-American story indicated that with Democrats in such firm control of the legislature, Democratic Gov.-elect Ned Lamont almost certainly will be able to advance his agenda. During the campaign, Gov.-elect Lamont unveiled policy proposals that probably would hurt Connecticut if implemented. The best-known proposals involve a $15 minimum wage and a paid-family-and-medical-leave system.
These signature proposals of Gov.-elect Lamont call to mind some of the worst policies of outgoing Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. With Gov.-elect Lamont showing no signs of revising his agenda, the next two years stand to set the stage for yet more economic trouble in Connecticut.
Each election year, the Connecticut GOP is advised to push as aggressively for legislative seats as it would for the governor’s office. The 2016 Republican playbook — which was characterized by the recruitment of strong and appealing candidates, raising significant funds and outlining a coherent agenda — always should guide the GOP’s efforts. As the last two years demonstrated, a strong Republican presence in the legislature stands to prevent implementation of legislation favored by far left Democrats. Moreover, strong Republican caucuses can help future GOP governors enact their agendas. Connecticut’s most recent Republican chief executives, John G. Rowland (1995-2004) and M. Jodi Rell (2004-11), had to work with legislatures dominated by Democrats.
To be sure, one can’t always control the political winds. For example, as this column asserted Nov. 9, dissatisfaction with President Trump probably was the No. 1 contributor to Republicans’ legislative losses last week. Nevertheless, the legislature is singularly important in the policy-making process, and Republicans should make the strongest possible efforts to win seats whenever they are up for election.
Furthermore: We can’t win
Amazon Inc.’s choice of Arlington, Virginia, and Long Island City, New York, for its new Eastern headquarters was not surprising.
The company’s main priorities were proximity to international airports, mass transit, interstate highways and skilled workforces, not cheap land or energy.
Connecticut leaders often tout the state’s quality of life and the high skill level of the workforce, but Amazon booted the state from consideration way back in January. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy attributed the rejection to the state’s lack of large metropolitan areas, and indeed, Amazon chose two of the biggest — Greater Washington, D.C., and New York City.
But Amazon couldn’t have helped but notice the deplorable quality of Connecticut’s municipal and state governance, high taxes and deteriorating financial conditions.
In January, New Haven Mayor Toni N. Harp expressed a willingness to compare her city’s “talent pool, market accessibility, quality of life and cultural amenities with literally any other American city,” a breathtakingly delusional depiction of the city she mismanages.
The Salem News
No numbers are more arresting than the digits on a fast food restaurant’s menu. A Big Mac’s 540 calories will make you rethink ordering a side of large fries, at 510 calories, from McDonald’s. Over at Dunkin’ Donuts, a large Vanilla Bean Coolatta packs almost an entire meal’s worth of energy — an eye-popping 840 calories.
A federal rule forcing fast food joints to label their food apparently has a real effect on those of us standing in line. A Rand Corp. study this year found that people order items with fewer total calories — by about 7 percent — when the information is displayed.
Now, imagine if politics worked the same way.
What if every press release that came out of Rep. Seth Moulton’s office was stamped at the bottom with the top contributors to his campaign? The biggest for Moulton in 2017-18 were affiliated with Harvard University, the New Democrat Coalition and Northrop Grumman, according to the campaign finance website OpenSecrets.org.
That’s just to pick on a local congressman; the same idea could be applied to every other Democrat and Republican on Capitol Hill.
Or what if Rep. Linda Dean Campbell had to disclose nearly $3,000 in labor-related contributions to her campaign this year when she sent a recent note about the signing of a civic education bill she’d championed?
That kind of boilerplate disclosure for unions, political committees or even top individual contributors could attach to every communication from an individual senator or rep — much like the disclosures at the end of advertisements placed by pharmaceutical companies.
Better yet, what if this kind of information was disclosed on campaign commercials, or available in the voting booth?
So, maybe these examples are extreme, if not cynical, implying connections between things that doesn’t necessarily exist. Giving money to a politician isn’t the same as buying a sponsorship. A quid pro quo for campaign donations may be the stuff of film, but rare is the office holder so overtly corrupt.
The point remains that politics — and who pays for it — should be far more transparent. Like burger joints and coffee shops made to post calorie counts, we should be erring on the side of more disclosure for voters.
A whopping 71 percent of those voting in last week’s election in Massachusetts agreed to a create a special commission to study political finance, with the possibility of changing the U.S. Constitution to draw limits around it.
Question 2 singled out the idea that businesses have free speech rights, and thus may spend money to influence elections, as the U.S. Supreme Court held in 2010. Shutting down corporate spending to sway opinion is fraught, nigh impossible. Lines between electioneering and advertising are perilously thin, and besides, money will always make its way through the system.
The far more important issue is finding better, more obvious ways to tell voters who spends how much, on behalf of whom. Sure, one can go look up that information on websites like OpenSecrets.org, or with the Federal Election Commission and state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Why not put it where voters are looking for it, when they need to see it?
That was underscored by a recent report by the Pioneer Institute on union spending. The survey of a couple dozen teachers unions in Massachusetts found the vast portion of members’ dues go to state and national organizations, not to the activities of local affiliates.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association protested that people on the state payroll are often the ones doing local work, such as in contract negotiations, and that’s a fair point.
A larger point is that unions should be doing a better job of disclosing where the money goes — which should be true for any organization that spends a large portion of its money on campaigns and political advocacy.
The same standards of disclosure we’ve come to expect as consumers should be applied to labor organizations and other groups that are politically active, and more importantly, to the those we’ve elected to conduct the business of government.
Maybe someday seeing who’s paid to influence our politics and your vote will be as simple as looking up the nutritional information at a burger joint.
The Providence Journal
The federal government has made a lot of people wealthy. Indeed, the three counties with highest per-capita income in America are all suburbs of the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Real estate values are also through the roof. Many have noted that an Inside-the-Beltway mentality afflicts the Washington intelligentsia, leaving them little understanding of or compassion for the people in the hinterlands who pay for everything.
In an era of easy travel and communications, does it make sense for so much of our nation’s bureaucracy to be centered there?
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue doesn’t think so. In an Aug. 9 news release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would be relocating the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture outside of Washington “to improve customer service, strengthen offices and programs, and save taxpayer dollars.” The plan is to complete this move by the end of 2019.
The reason given? First, such a move would improve the agencies’ ability “to attract and retain highly qualified staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from land-grant universities.” Second, it would “place these important USDA resources closer to many of stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from the Washington, D.C. area.” Third, for taxpayers it would create “significant savings on employment costs and rent” and “allow more employees to be retained in the long run, even in the face of tightening budgets.”
As former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels pointed out in a Nov. 6 Washington Post column, several organizations vehemently disagree with the USDA’s decision. The Housing Assistance Council, for instance, “complained that moving the Economic Research Service away from Washington ‘is yet another way rural voices will be out of earshot.’” Meanwhile, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition felt the plan would cause the U.S. to “experience a disastrous reduction in its agricultural research capacity.”
In Mr. Daniels’ view, the opposition has been so fierce that “You’d have thought someone had suggested moving the Washington Monument.” Yet, as he pointed out in his column, the agencies in question “together comprise less than 1 percent of total Agriculture Department employees, a large majority of whom already work elsewhere in the country.”
The theory of “Washington getting out of Washington,” as Mr. Daniels coined it, isn’t anything new. During the construction of what ultimately became the Homeland Security department during George W. Bush’s presidency, he (unsuccessfully) proposed keeping it out of Washington for economic and technological reasons — and, most importantly, away from a potential terrorist attack.
There will always be a need to situate some government departments and organizations in Washington for practical reasons.
Yet it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Trump administration to consider moving some government departments and organizations out of Washington and into different districts. It could enhance the potential talent pool, give current or would-be employees a chance to live in more affordable communities than in and around the nation’s capital, increase work opportunities in other states, and connect more bureaucrats to the wider country.
Rhode Island could extend an invitation or two (or three). Government institutions involved with health services, the state’s largest industry, could certainly find this a good home. Government institutions related to fisheries and oceans would be a natural fit, too.
It’s certainly worth exploring.
The Rutland Herald
You can’t believe everything you see.
Last Wednesday, video of a physical confrontation between CNN reporter Jim Acosta and a White House intern at a presidential press conference caused a stir when Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited it as grounds to revoke Acosta’s press credentials.
The problem is, the video does not depict events as they occurred. In reality, Acosta only made brief contact with the woman after she attempted to wrest the microphone from his hand. When he did, he excused himself, saying, “Pardon me, ma’am,” before continuing to press a combative President Trump, who was refusing to answer the reporter’s questions.
None of that is evident from the video in question, which Sanders shared on Twitter after picking it up from Paul Joseph Watson, an editor at the conspiracy site InfoWars. While the involvement of InfoWars immediately raises a red flag, whether or not the video was deliberately doctored is a matter of debate and semantics.
The video Watson shared was a GIF, a low-quality file format with a different frame rate than the high-quality footage captured by the many cameras in the room at the time. When frames are dropped, the resulting video can look sped up and jumpier than the original. Side-by-side comparisons reveal the video is, indeed, missing frames, making Acosta’s movements appear more aggressive.
While Watson maintains he did not intentionally alter the video, the changes in formats, compression and frame rates created an alternate depiction of events in which a reporter physically assaulted a young woman. It’s no surprise the White House, which, through President Trump’s bully pulpit, has repeatedly called the press the enemy of the people, would seize upon that narrative.
We’ve seen this many times before from the Trump administration. From Sean Spicer disputing the size of Inauguration Day crowds to Kellyanne Conway’s defense of using “alternative facts,” this White House has actively contributed to the erosion of truth in political discourse.
More troubling, however, is the administration’s complicity in mainstreaming fringe conspiracy theories from dark corners of the internet. Drawing from that toxic ecosystem, President Trump has successfully crafted an alternate reality for himself and his supporters — one in which the press is not to be trusted and all information is suspect unless he says it’s not. Simply by decrying “fake news,” Trump can effectively dismiss any fact that does not conform to the reality he chooses to present in that moment.
Trump’s attacks on objective reality reached a surreal crescendo in July when he boldly stated, “Stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. ... What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
In this context, the Acosta video is more than yet another attack on the press and the First Amendment; it’s a harbinger of the coming information war where bad actors will employ increasingly sophisticated technology to spread disinformation and propaganda that will threaten to alter our very understanding of reality.
Sanders’ opportunistic use of the video — intentionally doctored or not — is a troubling glimpse of what’s to come.
In an interview with BuzzFeed earlier this year, technologist Aviv Ovadya painted a chilling picture of a not-too-distant future in which highly sophisticated campaigns will sow confusion, doubt and discord with potentially dangerous geopolitical ramifications (bit.ly/bf-ovadya).
He warns that artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality technologies are “evolving faster than our ability to understand and control or mitigate” them. The result is more human-like AIs and synthetic audio and videos that will be virtually impossible to differentiate from the real thing.
Adobe, purveyor of the image-altering software Photoshop, is currently working on two new projects that will allow users to seamlessly alter video and audio with similar ease.
Of greater concern is the program built by computer scientists at the University of Washington that successfully turns “audio clips into a realistic, lip-synced video of the person speaking those words.” The videos are remarkably realistic.
Imagine the chaos created by a synthetic video of Vladimir Putin declaring war on the U.S., or the impact on upcoming elections if candidates can create and disseminate compromising videos of their opponents.
Even the specter of such technology can cast doubt on the authenticity of real recordings. Trump did as much earlier this year when he alleged the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women, was digitally faked.
“You don’t need to create the fake video for this tech to have a serious impact,” computational propaganda researcher Renee DiResta told BuzzFeed in the same story. “You just point to the fact that the tech exists and you can impugn the integrity of the stuff that’s real.”
Such confusion creates what Ovadya calls “reality apathy,” a condition in which people, exhausted by trying to parse truth from lies, tune out and become less informed. Such indifference presents an unprecedented existential threat to democracy that social media platforms, world governments and we in the press are ill-equipped to combat.
As the lines between fact and fiction become increasingly blurred, all parties must work together to find solutions to prevent the malevolent application of new technologies as well as preserve objective, fact-based reality against those who would distort it to their own dangerous ends.
Portland Press Herald
“On Nov. 6, 2018, the State of Maine conducted an election and presented voters with a ballot that asked them to rank their choices for who should be the people’s representative for Maine’s Second Congressional District.”
So begins Judge Lance Walker’s sober, logical dismantling of Bruce Poliquin’s arguments for having a federal court halt the ranked-choice vote tabulation until it rules on his lawsuit claiming ranked choice is unconstitutional. One by one, Walker took up each of Poliquin’s legal arguments and knocked them down, but his first sentence said it all: Everyone who participated in the election, from the candidates to the voters, knew the rules, and he was not likely to throw them out just because Poliquin lost.
With the court refusing to grant a delay, election officials counted the ballots Thursday in accordance with Maine’s ranked-choice voting law, and about an hour later, they declared Democrat Jared Golden the winner.
Poliquin did not concede, vowing to continue his lawsuit challenging the legality of ranked choice. That’s his right, but Walker’s very thorough decision should give him and his supporters little hope that the judge will rule in his favor.
Poliquin filed the lawsuit last week. It makes a number of claims that should be familiar to anyone who has been following the ranked-choice voting debate in Maine over the past two years.
The most prominent claim, one that Poliquin has been repeating like a metronome since Election Day, is that ranked-choice voting is “unconstitutional.” His lawsuit cites Article 1, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution, which says that “the House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.” According to Poliquin, that has “always been construed to mean” that only a plurality of votes is needed to win.
But Walker appeared to shoot that down. It’s true that declaring a plurality winner “does not offend the Constitution,” Walker wrote, but there’s nothing in there that says that is the only way to do it.
Walker also cast doubt on Poliquin’s other claims, including the ones based on the Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection.
Poliquin argued that because many of his voters may not have selected a second choice on their ballots, they would not have as much influence on the outcome as those who picked an independent candidate first and Golden second. In effect, they would get to vote twice, according to Poliquin.
The judge noted that there was “some irony” in Poliquin’s demand that the court protect his voters by throwing out the votes for other candidates cast by those who followed the rules in good faith.
In reality, every voter had the same opportunity to influence the outcome of the election, and by Poliquin’s own logic, his supporters also got to vote twice - both times for Poliquin. As long as he was still in the race, his votes were counted solely in his column.
Maine voters approved this law because many were tired of looking at multi-candidate fields and trying to figure out whether their favorite candidate was a spoiler or someone with a real chance to win.
This system allows them to vote with both their hearts and their heads - voting for the person they think would be best for the job without helping their least favorite to victory.
The hope is that over time, this kind of system will benefit candidates who appeal to a broad cross-section of the electorate, and make it less likely for an extreme candidate to win in the face of divided opposition.
It’s too soon to say if it will have those effects, but it’s not too soon to say that for primaries and federal races in Maine, ranked-choice voting is the law, and candidates must adapt.
The alleged actions of one man in Rochester caused disruption for many people and businesses over a 22-hour period Sunday and Monday. Thankfully, due to the many people involved there was an arrest with no injuries to law enforcement or anyone else. Lives were interrupted, public dollars were spent and businesses certainly lost money, but the outcome was nonetheless commendable.
Christopher L. Thomas, 27, is now being held without bail, facing four felony charges of reckless conduct with a deadly weapon for allegedly firing his rifle at police during the manhunt in the woods near Walmart. Thomas was spotted around mid-day Sunday in the area of Walmart with his rifle before retreating to the woods, where he had been living, according to police. He was determined to be a threat and Walmart, Market Basket and other area stores were evacuated and shut down until he was taken into custody mid-morning on Monday.
Thomas was also wanted on three warrants for criminal threatening, along with four warrants for theft for shoplifting at various businesses, including Walmart.
About 70 law enforcement personnel responded to assist in a large-scale effort to apprehend Thomas. Chief Paul Toussaint of the Rochester Police Department gave credit to N.H. State Police helicopter crew, N.H. State Police SWAT, Maine State Police SWAT and Manchester (N.H.) SWAT.
“We appreciate community members’ patience as we located the suspect and resolved this situation,” Toussaint said. “This was a true collaborative effort.”
These officers established a perimeter around the suspect and assuring the rest of the community they were safe hours before Thomas was taken into custody. They spent the Sunday-into-Monday hours outside in cold weather risking their lives. The management and employees of the evacuated stores, as well as customers, endured tense times before learning they were safe. We shouldn’t take for granted those hours of feeling safe while they were working granted. It’s thanks to their efforts.
The Rochester police affidavit describing the incident provides insight about another person who helped the cause for the good of the public -- Dean Thomas, father of the suspect.
Dean Thomas and a friend visited Christopher in the woods on Saturday, a day before the incident, according to the affidavit. He attempted to talk reason with his son, who was talking about government tyranny and the siege of a religious compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993, according to police, who were led to believe there could be a mental health issue. The father had to give up his efforts and reported to police the GPS coordinates for his son’s location, as well as telling police his son was in possession of an AK-47 rifle and other weapons. (Police later said Christopher L. Thomas had legal possession of the weapons.)
Dean Thomas deserves the thanks of the community for helping police achieve a safe result to the incident.
These kinds of incidents are too frequent. We hope more safeguards and support systems can be put in place to help people before they get to the point where a large-scale manhunt or standoff takes place.
In the meantime, we hope the entire community takes the time to thank local and state law enforcement. Their professionalism and the safe outcome are priceless.