Editorials from around New England
Editorials from around New England:
The profound social and political divisions that are tearing at the fabric of our nation were played out Monday in a most unlikely place, a volunteer firehouse in the bucolic village of Haddam, nestled close by the Connecticut River.
It was at a Board of Selectmen meeting, a meeting few would normally have paid any attention. But on this night the firehouse was packed with people, most of them angry. State news media had dutifully gathered to record the Trump-era drama.
This was Make America Great versus America is in peril.
Two weeks earlier, Selectwoman Melissa Schlag had made the decision to express her distress over the presidency of Donald J. Trump. The lying, the villainous treatment of refugees seeking asylum on the nation’s southern border, stripping them of children, had left her distraught. Trump’s deferential post-summit press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his failure to condemn Putin’s interference in our 2016 election, was a last straw.
Schlag decided to kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance.
The image was recorded and distributed across social and traditional media.
What Schlag considered a form of respectful protest others saw as an insult, demeaning the U.S. flag and in the process those who had fought and died to defend it, returning in caskets draped in it.
Into that firehouse came perspectives so different they left no room for mutual understanding. In that way, it reflected the state of our nation.
On Monday, Schlag knelt again; hand over heart as she recited the pledge. She did what she thought was right, even in a room full of people glaring and fuming. It was courageous. And it was a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment.
But it was also misguided.
Schlag is an elected leader. With that position comes an expected level of decorum. She represents the people of Haddam, all of them. In that capacity, it was wrong to drop to her knees during the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and to the republic for which that flag stands.
It is also hard to see what Schlag hopes to achieve. She is getting much attention, certainly. But does her form of protest bring any chance of changing minds about Trump and his presidency? Unlikely.
But while disagreeing with Schlag’s form of protest, it must be further noted the anger displayed was out of all proportion to her actions, the political exploitation of the moment revolting, and the contradictions voiced by Schlag’s critics confounding.
She was accused of symbolically urinating on the graves of soldiers killed in battle and told to leave the country. Hate mail fills her inbox.
Earlier in the day a “stand for the flag” rally was organized by state Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, and Tim Herbst, former first selectman of Trumbull. Linares, who in 2012 defeated Schlag in a Senate race, is running for state treasurer, Herbst for governor. They apparently did not want to miss the opportunity to wrap themselves in the flag two weeks before the Aug. 14 Republican primary.
Herbst observed that the U.S. flag “stands for the fundamental ideal that we can have differences of opinion.” True enough.
Linares offered that, “This isn’t about taking anyone’s rights away. This is about celebrating the flag and respecting the freedom our country represents.”
Yet both Herbst and Linares have demanded Schlag’s resignation.
“I am asking the Republicans, the people of Haddam, to demand that Melissa Schlag resign from her position and that she apologizes to the people of Haddam, to the veterans of Haddam who have served our country with the ultimate sacrifice and that she actually salutes the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance,” Linares had stated earlier.
“She needs to resign immediately. One of the things our flag stands for, it stands for our freedom. It stands for our democracy. It stands for the fundamental ideal that we can have differences of opinion,” Herbst said, appearing on “FOX and Friends.”
We’re confused. The flag stands for freedom and respecting differences of opinion, yet Schlag must step down (or compulsorily salute) because others disagree with her form of protest? Comply or resign is not freedom.
This entire drama is a distressing sign of the times.
The Republican of Springfield
On the one hand, the United States has a president whose detractors accuse of fascism. The Constitution doesn’t allow fascist dictatorships, yet the president has certainly shown no antipathy to foreign leaders who rule with such an unchecked iron hand.
On the other hand, Democrats are undergoing a palace revolt from their own left wing. Already accused by Republicans of abusing the tradition of America by veering too far left, they are experiencing a wave of young recruits with outspokenly socialist views.
Extreme right versus extreme left. Pity the poor millions upon millions of Americans who subscribe to neither.
Both parties approach the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential race with unease. To many Republicans, Trump is too vulgar, unpredictable, vindictive and childish. To others, he is not consistently conservative enough.
Taking him on publicly, though, is still done at great political risk. The Democrats meanwhile face their own fork in the road: either seeking a middle ground that speaks to mature bipartisan governing, or riding the tidal wave of their New Left, which is speaking with a voice loud enough not to be ignored.
The party is finding that Bernie Sanders was not an isolated fluke. Democrats who felt confident backing the tried-and-true candidate in Hillary Clinton wound up with one of the most painful defeats in American political history.
As the two parties flirt with extremes at either end of the spectrum, the real loser is America because American diversity demands reasonable judgment and often, compromise. Serving up a checklist of agenda items that pleases either the far left or hard right, but excludes huge numbers of Americans, allows a temporary victory dance for the winners — only to produce more divisive and bitter showdowns later, solving nothing.
That is the danger of 2020, and one that’s becoming increasingly possible. Among Democrats, this might actually help the candidacy of U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, an unabashed liberal but one with the ability to be heard as the mature adult in the room — distinguished from the hysteria of the far left and the zealots of the far right.
In short, Warren may not appear so unreasonably liberal to centrist Americans if other Democrats campaign even more unreasonably to the left than she does.
And Trump? Are enough people in the swing states finally tiring of the act? His support base will not budge under any circumstances, but will they be enough to win or will they lose the necessary support from voters who decide that four years of his public antics and tantrums are enough?
Most of all, can anybody out there appeal to one constituency without becoming absolutely hated by the other? American political figures of each party once did that, or at least tried.
Not today, as the Democrats weigh the potential and consequence of shifting even farther left, while Trump Republicans swerve to an uncompromising stance on the right. Pity the huge numbers of Americans who think the best government is one that leans one way but respects the other, rather than succumbing to the screeches of one with no regard for the other.
But the losing side will not disappear. It will leave the election feeling left out, disrespected and ignored. If extremism is the choice in 2020, the winners will enjoy only a brief celebration because millions of angry voters will be appalled at the choice they were given.
The Providence Journal
Gov. Gina Raimondo has made no secret of her desire to require that Rhode Island taxpayers fund the tuition of in-state public college students, and in a news conference last month at Community College of Rhode Island, she launched her campaign to do that.
Ms. Raimondo said her free (for students) tuition plan, along with a proposal to expand job training in areas identified by Rhode Island employers, are all “about priorities” and making sure that Rhode Islanders, regardless of age or where they are in their careers, can get the “training and education they need” to “keep up and get ahead.”
There is much to like about these proposals, because focusing on training and education helps to create a pipeline of skilled workers who can meet the needs of Rhode Island employers that are trying to fill job openings. It also demonstrates that our leaders are serious when they talk about the importance of a strong education system to the state’s quality of life and the opportunities that are available here.
But with regard to the college tuition plan, there are also reasons for caution.
As many critics have noted, “free” tuition isn’t really free. The cost of expanding this program — beyond Community College of Rhode Island to third- and fourth-year students at Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island — would be about $35 million a year, according to the governor’s figures.
That sets off some alarm bells.
Even in the midst of a prolonged economic expansion, Rhode Island faces structural budget deficits that are projected in the hundreds of millions of dollars. At the same time, the state has embarked on a path to provide property tax relief by phasing out its motor vehicle tax — a plan that is expected to eventually drain government coffers of more than $200 million a year.
The practical questions must be asked: Where is the money for a major new entitlement going to come from? If current revenue projections suggest Rhode Island will have the money to spend on this, what will happen when the economy inevitably slows down or crashes? Once such programs are in place, they are virtually impossible to retract. What other public services and aid for the needy would have to be slashed? How much would have to be raised in taxes, which can further dampen the economy?
Another concern has to do with Rhode Island’s K-12 education system. Rhode Island’s public schools lag behind those in other states and leave poor and minority students far behind students in the suburbs. This is not only a tragedy for young minority students. It also the reason many students need remedial help when they go to CCRI. Essentially, higher education must do the work that K-12 schools have not.
Dramatically increasing access to college would certainly make far more sense if Rhode Island’s public schools were better preparing students for college and other career options. Of course, fixing existing problems is significantly more difficult than simply handing out tuition.
The Times Argus
It is extremely fortuitous that when the region’s U.S. governors and Eastern Canadian premiers meet later this month it will be here in Vermont.
Gov. Phil Scott will host the regional conference in Stowe on Aug. 12-14. The heavy lifting among the region’s leaders is scheduled to take place on Monday, Aug. 13.
Since 1973, the six New England states and the five Eastern Canadian provinces have worked cooperatively “to address their shared interests across the border,” according to a release issued from Scott’s office this week.
The 11 member jurisdictions include: Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Québec.
In recent years, joint committees between the nations have focused on climate change, energy, transportation and air quality issues. And while those are important issues, the dialogue everyone should be having right now is on the economy.
There are three sessions scheduled. One of them focuses on the trade war.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Trump administration’s argument that tariffs were necessary for national security reasons was an “affront” to Canada. So Trudeau imposed his own tariffs on the United States on Canada Day, July 1. The impact on Vermont consumers could be small, but there is a much larger concern as to whether the tariffs will strain or permanently damage the longstanding relationship that Vermont has developed with leaders from Canada. About 40 percent of Vermont’s exports go to Canada, and any trade war could hurt the state. Nationally, more than 9 million U.S. jobs depend on U.S.-Canadian trade.
According to state data, Vermont’s international exports topped $3 billion. Our northern neighbor is by far the largest international market for Vermont goods.
State officials here remain particularly concerned about how the tariffs will hit agriculture and the automotive and aerospace engineering sectors. Maple also is an industry poised to see change: Vermont imports more maple syrup than it exports.
Suffice it to say, other New England states — specifically Maine — are equally alarmed about the long-term economic impacts. Republican Gov. Paul LePage, a longtime Trump supporter, is personally representing the Maine delegation at next week’s conference because of the pinch he feels the trade war puts on his state.
According to the posted conference schedule, the final 75-minute session for the leaders on Monday afternoon is “Trade in the Region and Shaping our Future Relationship.”
“New England and Eastern Canada’s trade relationship is intertwined boasting the world’s largest bilateral economic relationship with billions of dollars’ worth of imports and exports between the two,” the description of the session states. “With NAFTA negotiations still underway and changing political environment between the United States and Canada-New England and Eastern Canada have a lot to lose if a compromise is not made. Discussions will include the importance of trade between the region, projections for New England/Eastern Canadian relations with NAFTA, and how the states and provinces can shape the future of trade for the region.”
The other two sessions will focus on energy storage and the role of policy to drive electric vehicle innovation.
It is hard to know what can realistically be accomplished in just over an hour’s time. The topic merits an honest and frank airing.
Last month, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was interviewed on Vermont Public Radio about the important relationship Vermont and Quebec have in the region. He told “Vermont Edition” host Jane Lindholm, “We should be allied as we have always been . It has always been a very profitable exchange for both countries.” Couillard called the tariffs first imposed by the U.S. as “very surprising and unnecessary measures.”
Couillard also is attending the conference personally as well, leading his delegation.
At no time in recent history has a meeting of regional leaders ever been so important. The discussion and message that comes from this regional meeting could help dictate what President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau do next in this ongoing economic quagmire, and to change the international dialogue.
Hopefully, Vermont’s Scott, as host and chairman over the conference, can use his sway, cool-headedness and penchant for coalition-building to oversee a productive and potentially profitable meeting for all of New England and Eastern Canada.
Opportunities like this do not happen often. Through Vermont’s leadership and our delegation hosting this timely and important summit, perhaps a new path toward mended fences can actually begin.
The Concord Monitor
The news last week about a “promising” development in Alzheimer’s drug research was received by experts and patient advocates with cautious optimism, and the required skepticism.
The last thing anyone needs is false expectations. But for exhausted families and caregivers and especially the huge aging population of baby boomers who fear the onset of dementia - any sign of progress against this devastating disease is welcome.
Biogen, the Cambridge based bio-tech company, and its Japanese partner Eisai, reported that clinical trials of a new drug — BAN2401 — slowed the causes and progress of Alzheimer’s disease. Of patients taking the highest dose of the drug, 81 percent showed a reduction in the sticky substance in the brain — amyloid plaque — that is the marker of Alzheimer’s. In that group, the rate of cognitive decline — like remembering and planning — slowed by 30 percent.
“A 30 percent slowing of decline is something I would want my family member to have,” said Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, the largest private, nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s research. The drugs ability to clear brain plaque “looks pretty amazing,” she told the AP.
There’s no talk of a cure. And, one expert told the New York Times, whether the findings could make a difference in people’s lives, and allow them to live longer independently, is not clear. But the report looks like an encouraging step forward.
More than 5.5 million Americans over 65 years old suffer from this cruel disease, costing $250 billion annually, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. And that number is projected to rise to 15 million Americans by 2050, at an unsustainable cost of $1 trillion. In New Hampshire, which has the third oldest population in the country, 25,000 people over 65 live with Alzheimer’s. State planners expect that number to jump by 37 percent in just six years.
The impact would be “a cataclysm that would rock New Hampshire families and New Hampshire’s budget,” U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster of Hopkinton wrote in a recent column for the Monitor. Kuster, who lost her mother, Susan McLane, to Alzheimer’s, has pushed Congress to increase federal funding for research aimed at prevention, and a cure.
“I know all too well the challenges of this disease,” Kuster wrote. “Its physical toll is matched only by the emotional and financial toll that Alzheimer’s takes on individuals suffering from the disease and their loved ones.”
Other trials of Alzheimer drug therapies have had a 99. 6 percent failure rate, compared to 20 percent success rates for cancer, according to published reports. It has been 15 years since a new treatment has been approved — and that therapy only addresses symptoms, in some people. All of us who, like the McLane family, have witnessed the ravages of Alzheimer’s understand that a “promising” study doesn’t guarantee an end result, and must be tested, and retested and the data strictly scrutinized.
Not surprisingly, Wall Street has plenty of interest in the development of a drug that would treat millions of patients, generating huge profits. With the best outcomes, and government approval, the drug, which would benefit patients with early onset Alzheimer’s or dementia, wouldn’t be available for 2 to 3 years, Biogen’s chairman told CNBC. And as to price? “It’s way too premature” to talk about that, he said. But clearly Wall Street is thinking about it. Obviously, family members, caregivers, and government regulators, should be too.
A “glimmer of hope” is how the Boston Globe headlined its front page story about the new data.
Faced with no hope at all, that’s something to hold on to, at least for now.
The Bangor Daily News
After the deaths of two young girls in recent months, the state’s child welfare system is under review and policies are being revamped. Discussions with front-line workers reveal an agency in disarray with policies being changed without consultation and, worse, without anticipating the consequences.
Gov. Paul LePage has said that the Department of Health and Human Services was too focused on maintaining family cohesion and that a new standard of the “best interests” of the child should be applied, although DHHS leaders haven’t bothered to define it.
The result is that more children are being removed from their homes. But without enough foster homes available, children are frequently staying in hotels. On nearly every night since April, two caseworkers from the DHHS office in South Portland have been required to spend a night at a hotel with a child who is awaiting placement. Caseworkers have also stayed with children in hospital emergency rooms.
During the first four months of 2018, as Maine’s child welfare system began reacting to the deaths of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in February and 4-year-old Kendall Chick in December allegedly at the hands of their caregivers, the number of children taken into state custody rose 10 percent over the same period in 2017, according to DHHS.
DHHS attributes the jump to a spike in the number of child abuse reports following the publicity surrounding the two girls’ deaths. Caseworkers say a flurry of child welfare policy changes from the LePage administration have also led the state to place more children in foster care — despite multiple studies showing that, when it’s feasible, children generally fare better with their parents than they would in foster care. The state can help parents become more successful with the right services, such as addiction treatment, temporary financial assistance and helping them to identify support networks they can call on during challenging times.
Caseworkers who spoke recently with the Bangor Daily News and recent internal memos the newspaper obtained show a system overwhelmed by recent policy shifts and increasing numbers of children being separated from their parents.
“How are we doing a good job for these kids that we’ve removed them from their parents, they’re traumatized, they’re scared, and then we plop them in a hotel? How is that best for them?” a caseworker said. “And then when we find a placement, it’s not necessarily even a permanent placement, and we’re bouncing them around from respite home to respite home to respite home, trying to find a placement for them.”
Indeed, how is this best for the children?
It is understandable that the department is under stress and seeking to make improvements after Kennedy’s and Chick’s deaths. But lurching from one policy to another without adequate preparation and evidence of their efficacy is not improvement, it is just change.
Other recent changes at DHHS include abandoning a system to empower parents to improve their parenting and other skills and requiring caseworkers to reopen six months’ worth of low-priority cases that had been assigned to private contractors. Caseworkers have also been told to stop the use of “safety plans,” which allowed children to be temporarily placed with a relative rather than obtaining a court order to formally remove them from their homes.
Several weeks ago, LePage said that more caseworkers would be hired at DHHS. Earlier this week, he said more caseworkers weren’t needed — at least in the interim. Instead, current caseworkers would get more training and an outdated computer system would be upgraded. The state should do all three.
LePage used his weekly radio address to blast the state employees’ union for not bringing problems at DHHS meetings to his attention. This accusation comes despite the fact that union representatives and management at DHHS meet regularly to talk about staffing and other issues. As for individual DHHS caseworkers, some supervisors at DHHS have made it clear that speaking out will be punished and the governor tends to lash out at people who are critical of him and his management.
There are plenty of things that need attention at DHHS — staffing levels, paperwork requirements, ever-changing policies and taking children from their families without an adequate alternative. Attention should be focused on these issues, not spreading blame.