Editorials from around New England

November 3, 2017

Editorials from around New England:


The Boston Globe, Nov. 2

The state Senate passed a sweeping criminal justice reform package last week that could be a national model for preserving public safety while curbing some of the excesses of an overly punitive system.

It’s a significant effort at rational public policy-making at a time when chaos and misrule seem to dominate Washington.

House lawmakers, poised to take their own once-in-a-generation swipe at an overhaul, and the governor, weighing what legislation he would or wouldn’t sign, would be wise to follow the Senate’s lead.

The legislation, steered by state Senator William Brownsberger of Belmont, a former prosecutor and one-time defense counsel for indigent clients, takes a thoughtful approach to a whole host of issues.

Start with mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Ideally, Massachusetts would get rid of them altogether. Real justice is individualized justice, with judges empowered to decide what sort of punishment is appropriate in any given case.

But prosecutors are fiercely opposed to repeal. And wholesale scrapping of mandatory penalties for high-level heroin dealers in the midst of an opioid epidemic would be a tough sell. The Senate legislation is instead an exercise in the art of the possible — keeping mandatory minimums in place for large-scale traffickers of heroin and other drugs, while repealing them for lower-level dealers, many of them addicts themselves.

Of course, even a conviction that comes with a shorter sentence can have serious long-term consequences — making it harder to get a job upon release from prison and increasing the odds of recidivism. The Senate bill recognizes that reality and makes it easier for the courts to divert more low-level offenders out of the criminal justice system and into drug treatment and other kinds of programs.

Another provision would raise the cut-off for the juvenile justice system from the 18th to 19th birthday, adding 18-year-olds to the juvenile system. Kids that age aren’t full-fledged adults, as any parent can attest; indeed, neuroscience studies have found that the human brain is still maturing into the mid-20s. More young offenders should be able to benefit from the protections and rehabilitative services of what is considered one of the best juvenile systems in the country.

It’s not just compassionate, it’s also smart: Research suggests young people who serve in a juvenile system are less likely to backslide and return to crime than those who serve in an adult system, where they are exposed to seasoned criminals.

The Senate legislation does a lot of other smart things, big and small. It gives inmates in solitary confinement better access to programming, for instance, and periodic reviews to see if they’re ready to return to the general population. It also allows people who have fallen behind on parking tickets to get on payment plans so they’re less likely to have their driver’s licenses suspended — and lose their ability to get to work.

The state’s district attorneys support some of the small-bore changes in the Senate package. But most — though notably, not all — have declared their opposition to major parts of the legislation. Just before the vote, several signed a letter raising the specter of a surge in violent crime and an exodus of businesses and jobs from hard-hit urban areas if the bill passes.

That’s alarmist. There is no evidence that the reforms contemplated by the Senate would lead to that kind of ruin. And they’re not nearly as radical as the prosecutors suggest. The Senate bill would eliminate some, but not all, mandatory minimum sentences and raise the age for the juvenile justice system by a single year.

It’s significant reform, but it’s considered. With a historic opportunity to improve the criminal justice system, the Senate rose to the occasion. The House should follow.

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



The Republican-American, Oct. 30

Amid all the unpleasantness in the United States today — from the storm damage in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico to the first indictments in the investigation into possible foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election — one report stands in sharp rebuttal. For the second consecutive quarter, the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 3 percent of gross domestic product.

The quarter ending Sept. 30 marked the first time since the fall of 2014 that the economy had grown at a rate of 3 percent or better. Economists said the increase would have been greater had it not been for the effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

There was more good news that may bode well for the future: U.S. consumer spending in September recorded its highest increase since August 2009.

“The surge is not a surprise to economists, though the strength of it is,” Newsweek magazine reported Oct. 27. “In 2016, the annual rate of growth was only 1.6 percent, but the economy has been expanding since June 2009. And economists predict growth will continue until at least May 2018, which would make the current expansion the second-longest in history. But economists did not expect growth so far above 2 percent.”

Naturally, supporters of President Trump — including the president himself — were quick to take credit for the good economic news. And there’s some justification for that. Mr. Trump may not have achieved many of his legislative objectives, but he’s had some success in trimming the regulatory burdens of business and industry. And Congress has been more receptive to his tax-reform ideas than it was to his effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats haven’t been in a rush to take credit for the second-longest sustained period of economic growth in U.S. history, probably because that would force them to concede the slow but steady growth that occurred on President Barack Obama’s watch has continued, and accelerated, under Mr. Trump.

Rather than putting Mr. Obama’s or Mr. Trump’s face on the trend, Americans — from service and blue-collar workers to denizens of the executive suite — have cause to look into the mirror to get an accurate gauge on who is responsible for the encouraging economic news.

Online: http://bit.ly/2yrO97T



The Westerly Sun, Nov. 2

It took Superstorm Sandy and the blizzards that followed to initiate a common sense approach to preventive measures when it comes to storm damage and utility infrastructure.

Something as simple as tree cutting and pruning, something we had called for after other storms left whole neighborhoods without power because of a bad limb, became a focal point after Sandy. But we have to ask now: did the utilities get bored with that project? We can’t recall seeing bucket trucks and tree crews in recent years the way we did after the realization that this simple strategy could save so much frustration on the part of customers — and cost on the part of utilities.

This past weekend’s storm was a little like Sandy in that it became a hybrid — coming in advertised as a nor’easter but dishing out hurricane force winds through much of the period from Sunday evening through most of Monday. The timing also was uncanny, with the storm striking on the five-year anniversary of Sandy’s assault. As an aside, it made for an interesting time in the newsroom. Breaking news reporter Jason Vallee was posting a live storm story while we were simultaneously publishing the first few stories in our Superstorm Sandy anniversary series.

With leaves still on the trees, the soaking rain and strong, sustained winds made tree damage the primary challenge and flooding a secondary concern. Minor power outages in nor’easters are common, but places like North Stonington were showing outage percentages of 75 percent and more. And in Stonington, more than 50 percent of customers lost power. Many expressed surprise at the widespread nature of the outages and the duration of the power loss. More than 30,000 customers were still without power across Rhode Island as of Wednesday afternoon.

We get that Monday’s continued high winds, even as the sun poked out on occasion, challenged workers and posed safety risks that kept the bucket truck crews grounded longer than National Grid and Eversource — and customers — would have liked. But again, we have to wonder how so many areas were allowed to be so exposed to utility loss by downed trees after such a concentrated effort to eliminate these scenarios in the years after Sandy and those blizzards.

Gov. Gina Raimondo has called for an investigation into National Grid’s readiness and response to the storm, perhaps after feeling pressure herself from constituents. Maybe states need to step in and devote more dollars to taking out trees that threaten utility lines along their rights of way. Perhaps even eminent domain might be considered in extreme cases if trees on private land pose a threat to lines that serve a significant number of properties.

This kind of expense has to pale in comparison to overtime pay and the kind of costs associated with emergency responses for utilities and local first responders. Utilities, states and municipal governments should attack this situation in a coordinated manner to share expenses and resources. Such an effort likely would reduce costs for utilities and government while providing improved service. All of this would reduce customer frustration — and potentially hazardous conditions — and that’s really the bottom line isn’t it?

Online: http://bit.ly/2h11aKI



The Times Argus, Nov. 2

Conspiring against the United States — that was one of the charges contained in the indictment against President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

It is an apt phrase to describe the conspiracy entangling the 2016 presidential campaign in a web of Russian efforts to throw the election to Trump.

That Russia was trying to help elect Trump is the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community, which issued a report to that effect many months ago. It is not even a controversial assertion anymore. That Manafort would be at the center of that conspiracy would not count as surprising. He has made himself a rich man as a lobbyist for the world’s most corrupt leaders, including the former leader of Ukraine, tossed out by a people’s revolution, from which he fled to Russia and the protection of his benefactor, Vladimir Putin.

Manafort has never behaved as a paragon of civic virtue. And it does not count as surprising that Trump would gravitate toward him during last year’s campaign. Trump himself has a fondness for thuggish, anti-democratic leaders, including Putin.

The charges against Manafort and his associate, Rick Gates, involve wheeling and dealing that is alleged to have occurred before Manafort formally joined the Trump campaign, including money laundering and tax evasion — the run-of-the-mill scheming of a corrupt political operative. So far, it appears that Manafort’s alleged transgressions don’t directly implicate Trump.

But another Trump subordinate, foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, has already pleaded guilty to charges that he lied to the FBI about his efforts to conspire with Russians during the campaign. A guilty plea is a signal that Papadopoulos may have chosen to tell what he knows about the campaign’s efforts to conspire with the Russians during the election.

Was there a conspiracy? We don’t know yet for sure. The investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller is in its early stages. But we know that everyone connected to Trump is behaving as if there was a conspiracy, and that includes the president.

It would account for the fact that numerous people have lied about their meetings with Russians, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Then there was the meeting with the Russian operative, attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort, who hoped she would give them dirt on Hillary Clinton. Everyone made up stories about that meeting, including the president, who wrote his son’s initial statement giving a false description of the meeting.

We don’t know the degree of Trump’s complicity with these machinations, but his behavior suggests his guilt. He fired FBI Director James Comey, then lied about why he was firing him, then contradicted his own lies by saying it was to quash the Russia investigation. That action itself may constitute obstruction of justice. Trump’s repeated efforts to denounce Mueller and discredit his probe, while maintaining a stream of baseless Twitter distractions, scream complicity on Trump’s part.

The ordinary citizen with an uneasy feeling about Russian involvement in American politics and the Trump administration’s potential collusion has had to be patient as Mueller sifts through the evidence. Additional patience is in order. Trump wants the American people to believe that suspicions about his corruption are based on fake news or political bias, and in his own defense he has waged a relentless war of words against investigators and news media. If evidence emerges about crimes connected to Trump, then Trump’s last line of defense will be to attack those bringing the evidence — the federal government itself and the media telling the story.

For Mueller to be diligent and steady, to be careful and relentless, is important, not just to get to the bottom of the story, but for the defense of our institutions and our democracy. Trump has done everything he can to undermine Americans’ faith in their democracy, trash talking our institutions and engaging in, at the least, suspicious meetings with the enemies of democracy. Manafort has been making money off those enemies for decades, and finally the facts appear to be catching up with him.

Online: http://bit.ly/2h2YKLF



The Concord Monitor, Nov. 1

Sometimes big problems — war, poverty, climate change, political incompetence — have to take a backseat to pet peeves. Today is such a day, a day to vent at being treated like a lab rat or a sheep en route to slaughter by more and more retailers.

Merchants have long used clever marketing strategies, some might say cheap tricks, to entice shoppers to buy more products, including stuff they don’t need. That’s why necessities like milk, eggs and bread are always at the back of a supermarket, often in opposite corners. It’s not a well-meaning way to force a customer with a cart full of donuts to get more exercise. The more time in the store, the more items in the cart is an equation proved countless times per day.

Savvy merchandising calls for putting cheery, bright-colored items at the store’s entrance — fruit and produce in the case of supermarkets — to subtly put shoppers in a buying mood. It means plenty of sale signs, two-for-one deals, prices that end in 99 cents and lots of inexpensive, impulse-buy items lining checkout lanes.

Fine, we can live with that, though it means a lot of needless walking and wasted time. But more and more stores are forcing shoppers to disappear into head-high mazes of racks and shelves loaded with all manner of low- and modestly priced trinkets, baubles, geegaws, snacks and sweets just to pay up and leave the store.

Some of the checkout mazes now have three or more turns and add scores if not hundreds of feet of walking for a customer who may have just one item.

Shoppers are expected to navigate the whole maze even when there’s no one else in line. Most people obediently do. Some, and we’re naming no names here, consider the mazes suggested routes and take shortcuts. One outlet even forces every customer to walk down one side of a 50-foot wall of goods and then back down the other side just to get to the aisles carrying the majority of its offerings. Once again, a suggested route.

Retailing is tough and getting tougher every day. But retailers are creating and extending mazes, and packing aisles with so many floor displays that it’s making shopping unpleasant. Contrast that trend with what Amazon, which recently purchased Whole Foods, is doing. It’s opening Amazon Go stores, small outlets stocking both necessities like milk and bread plus ready-to-go meals and upscale gourmet goods. Shoppers who download the company’s app to their phone can walk in, fill a bag with items and walk out — no checkout lines. Technology tells Amazon what each shopper took, bills their credit card and sends them an electronic receipt. No mazes, no hassle.

We question, now that it’s easy to buy almost everything, including groceries, with just one click of a mouse, if it’s time for a different retail strategy - a maze-less future that places a premium on convenience and minimizes aggravation, wasted time and needless travel.

We can only hope.

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



The Portland Press Herald, Nov. 2

Our hearts are aching for the friends and families of the eight people killed on a Manhattan bike path by a Muslim immigrant in a rented pickup. But even as we mourn, we shouldn’t allow emotion to dictate our response to what’s being called an “act of terror.” Though extremist policies may satisfy a desire to avenge extremist violence, they won’t stop it from happening again.

The alleged attacker — Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek immigrant — is in the custody of police, who announced Wednesday that he “did this in the name of ISIS.” The attack closely lined up with the extremist group’s online calls for its followers to use close-at-hand means of killing people in their home countries. And notes left at the scene essentially said that Islamic State, or ISIS, “would endure forever,” according to police, and indicated that Saipov had been planning the massacre for weeks.

Amid the fear, grief and questions, we need a leader who can unite us behind proven, well-thought-out, comprehensive strategies for preventing future tragedies. Unfortunately, the leader we have is Donald Trump.

On Wednesday, the president demanded the elimination of the green-card lottery, which allowed Saipov to enter the country legally — even though federal reviews in 2007 and 2011 found no evidence that the visa program had led to terrorism.

He also implied that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who introduced the program in 1990, is essentially a culprit in the attack. Never mind that in 2013, as part of the Gang of 8, Schumer tried to end the program.

What would a better response look like?

It would drop the focus on extreme vetting. It wouldn’t have stopped Saipov — Uzbekistan hasn’t been included in any version of Trump’s travel ban. And it stigmatizes immigrants as terrorists-in-waiting when the Government Accountability Office has found that far-right extremists were responsible for 73 percent of the deadly terror attacks in the U.S. between Sept. 12, 2001, and last Dec. 31.

A better response also would acknowledge that there’s no link between holding radical views and carrying out violence. In fact, as Brennan Center for Justice researchers reported this year, there’s no set of reliable indicators that will tell authorities who is more likely to become a terrorist.

Finally, it would focus on the crying need for law enforcement, homeland security and intelligence resources to focus on understanding and addressing all forms of violence that threaten our safety — rather than allowing a leader bent on pushing a virulently anti-immigrant agenda to single out one group in an approach that is as unsound as it is ineffective.

Online: http://bit.ly/2zael6J

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