Editorials from around New England

January 19, 2018

Editorials from around New England:


The (Springfield) Republican, Jan. 18

You could think of it as detente — with an asterisk.

Athletes and others from North Korea and South Korea will march together under one banner in the opening ceremony of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. While there have been a couple of similar displays in the past, one has to pause and recognize that what’s about to occur isn’t exactly an everyday thing.

Is the news worth cheering? Certainly. With reservations.

Because there is no way to know if the two Koreas marching under a banner that shows the entire Korean peninsula is a sign of better things ahead, or if it’s merely a stalling tactic from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. After all, if the entire world is busy congratulating the despot on his newfound rationality, he might well take that as an opportunity to get to work on furthering his nuclear and ballistic missile programs. While no one is looking, as it were.

Still, it’s possible to feel that the rapprochement, even if it should turn out to be only temporary, beats the heck out of the alternative.

And it’s notable that the two Koreas are planning more than mere symbolic gestures. If details can be worked out, the women’s ice hockey teams from the longtime rivals will be briefly merged into one unit for next month’s Olympics. How that might work out in practice remains anyone’s guess, but at a minimum, it will make for some can’t-miss television the world over.

The thought of the two adversaries competing together brings to mind what’s come to be called “pingpong diplomacy,” in which U.S. table tennis players visited China in 1971, marking an opening to a land with which we’d had no diplomatic relations for more than two decades. Did the pingpong players change everything? Consider this: Later that same year, U.S. President Richard Nixon stunned the world by announcing that he’d travel to the People’s Republic of China. To be sure, he’d previously hinted of seeking better relations, and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, had secretly visited Beijing on several diplomatic missions. But, that said, pingpong diplomacy has to be seen as having played a role.

Is it possible to imagine a similar thawing of relations with North Korea? At least not immediately. No one should be readying for a Donald Trump goes to Pyongyang moment.

But still, a cooling of hostilities that could come from the Olympics might be just what’s needed to get on a path that leads toward real change.

When one sees athletes from the rival Koreas marching beneath one banner, imagining a denuclearized Korean peninsula might not be quite so difficult.

You could think of it as a good start — with the hope of better days ahead.

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



The Republican-American, Jan. 17

Last June, Connecticut received demoralizing news when Aetna Inc. executives announced they would move Aetna’s corporate headquarters from Hartford to New York City come late 2018. The insurance giant had been a Hartford fixture since before the Civil War. Last week, however, Rhode Island-based CVS Health, which reached a merger agreement with Aetna in early December, announced it will not go forward with the Aetna move. This killed the $9.6 million incentive package New York City offered Aetna.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was ecstatic. “Today’s announcement confirms that Connecticut is a tremendous place to do business, with a talent pipeline and quality of life that are second to none,” Gov. Malloy said Jan. 12. “My administration will continue to work with CVS Health’s leadership team to ensure that their footprint in Hartford is maintained not only for the short term, but for the long run as well.”

Contrary to Gov. Malloy’s boasting, Aetna’s non-move does not indicate Connecticut has a healthy business environment. Let’s go back in time seven months.

Aetna’s move was announced June 29. Then-Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark T. Bertolini told The New York Times Gotham City offered “the ecosystem of having people in the knowledge economy, working in a town they want to be living in, and we want to attract those folks, and we want to have them on our team.” However, Aetna also asserted that its “long-term commitment to Connecticut will be based on the state’s economic health.” In a July 2 editorial, we argued, “It’s hard to see this as anything but Aetna putting policymakers on notice.”

Connecticut’s economic woes need no introduction. It’s unlikely the economy will turn around if state government doesn’t get its perpetually messy finances in order, a point also made in recent days by Bill Curry, the liberal Demo-crat who was his party’s nominee for governor in 1994 and 2002.

Unfortunately, there is no will power to fix the problems. This was best illustrated last summer, when Gov. Malloy and all but one of the legislature’s Democrats granted the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition a “concessions” deal that all but precludes cuts to the personnel costs that account for approximately one-third of Connecticut’s budget. That may at least partially explain why the $41.3 billion 2017-19 budget the governor and lawmakers approved in late October, while making some positive changes to state finances, nonetheless relies on gimmickry and tax increases.

This course does nothing for “the state’s economic health.” Remember, unstable finances prompted General Electric Co. executives to move GE headquarters from Fairfield to Boston after four-plus decades in Connecticut.

Gov. Malloy can blow the party noisemaker until he is blue in the face, but the fact remains that Connecticut has a fundamentally weak financial system and economy. Unfortunately, nothing is likely to change under the current Capitol powers-that-be.

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



The Providence Journal, Jan. 18

They might as well have said “We’re from the government and we’re here to scare the bejeezus out of you,” because that’s what they did.

Last weekend’s false warning of an incoming missile attack sent Hawaiian residents and visitors scrambling for cover, believing for a terrifying 15 minutes — and, for many, much longer — that the islands had come under attack.

Some hid under furniture. A man lowered a child into a storm drain, hoping it would provide protection from a nuclear blast. Many called family members and friends on the mainland and around the world to say goodbye.

It was all a mistake — a cruel false alarm caused by, officials said, human error.

Officials with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency later said an employee “pushed the wrong button” during a routine shift change. Instead of an internal test of the messaging system, the worker mistakenly sent it to the public, warning: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL”

The early efforts to correct the mistake weren’t enough to stem the panic. The emergency agency sent an update 13 minutes after the message, but it was via a social media account, not an all-points text message like the original warning.

Two minutes after that, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, sent a tweet saying HAWAII - THIS IS A FALSE ALARM. THERE IS NO INCOMING MISSILE TO HAWAII. I HAVE CONFIRMED WITH OFFICIALS THERE IS NO INCOMING MISSILE, but it went only to her 174,000 followers, many of whom undoubtedly weren’t paying attention.

It took 40 long minutes for the Emergency Management Agency to send a correction via text alert. “NO missile threat to Hawaii,” it said.

Meanwhile, confusion reigned. Public officials in Hawaii had few answers for the people whose panic turned to anger as they learned the warning was a mistake.

The episode is a monstrous black eye for the emergency management agency and for public officials who were caught off guard. It was a startling reminder that even emergency systems staffed by trained public servants are prone to monstrous errors. And the false alarm may make Hawaii’s residents less inclined to believe the next warning.

That danger of ignoring a real warning is particularly troubling at a time when North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is firing off missiles and rapidly developing his capacity to deliver nuclear weapons to the United States. Would North Korea launch a strike on the nation it has threatened to “teach a severe lesson with its strategic nuclear force”? Officials say it would take about 20 minutes for a missile launched from the Korean Peninsula to reach Hawaii.

In this context, it doesn’t seem too much to expect for emergency management agencies to check, re-check and triple check their systems and to develop backup plans to correct human errors like the one that caused the false missile alert. Human errors can happen any time, but the false alarm in Hawaii exposed a series of management failures that range from Honolulu to Washington. Does Rhode Island have a system that works any better (we hope)?

It’s not enough that a single state emergency agency staffer was disciplined and reassigned to a different job. Everyone involved, from bottom to top, should take a lesson in how to avoid making the next human error into something much worse.

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



Rutland Herald, Jan. 18

Rep. Peter Welch is hearing a rising clamor demanding that the U.S. House initiate impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. So far, Welch has resisted that call, saying that instead he would support a vote of censure.

The latest surge of interest in impeaching the president follows his racist comments disparaging predominantly black nations — Haiti and the nations of Africa — with a familiar vulgarity that need not be repeated. (It is an indictment in itself that the president’s language is so gross that people are reluctant to repeat it.)

If being a jerk were an impeachable offense, then proceedings against Trump would have begun long ago. But impeachment is described in the Constitution as a possible response by Congress to “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” This is a purposely vague formulation that allows Congress to determine what counts as a high crime or other serious misdeed. By itself, behaving as a morally repugnant individual doesn’t justify impeachment.

That doesn’t mean that grounds for impeachment will not emerge from the investigations now under way by special prosecutor Robert Mueller and several congressional committees. But jumping the gun on impeachment would put congressional Democrats in danger of making themselves the issue rather than the conduct of the president.

In any event, impeachment will go nowhere as long as Republicans hold a majority in the House. The Republicans have demonstrated a remarkable absence of shame or moral backbone as they have stood by the president. Their willingness to countenance his every outrage will likely put them in an extremely vulnerable position this fall, when voters are likely to punish them for their spinelessness. If Democrats win a majority in the House, talk of impeachment will then become more than academic.

In the meantime, Welch has it right. Refraining from impeachment puts the Democrats in a stronger position. They can push for a thorough investigation of the scandals swamping Trump’s administration for the purpose of getting to the truth, rather than to pursue the political aim of removing the president. Impeachment would remain as an option if the evidence justifying it became sufficiently clear and convincing that the public could not help but rally to the cause.

Meanwhile, keeping the pos - sibility of impeachment alive is a worthwhile activity for those Vermonters putting pressure on Welch. Impeachment has been a constant threat during Trump’s first year, like a storm cloud on the horizon, and there are many reasons to keep that storm cloud looming in place.

One obvious reason is the possibility that Trump engaged in a conspiracy with Russia to corrupt the election. Even Trump’s former campaign manager and chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has called the meeting in June 2016 between a Russian operative and high Trump officials as “treasonous.” That may have been Bannon shooting off his mouth for author Michael Wolff, but it suggests guilty knowledge of questionable connections. Trump’s behavior — firing the FBI director, bragging to Russians that he had done so to protect himself — and the pattern of lies by his associates suggest impeachable offenses.

Trump’s financial entanglements with dubious Russians and others may also paint him as a common gangster. His former campaign manager Paul Manafort has already been charged with money laundering. And his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has already pleaded guilty to lying. Then there is the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which forbids Trump from receiving payments from foreign countries, a provision his businesses violate every day.

Trump is on the defensive and politically weak while investigators explore this miasma of corruption. He flails about, attacking the press and the Mueller probe, further underscoring his weakness. The Democrats do well to allow these investigations to run their course until the strongest possible case comes together. Impeachment must never be undertaken for trivial political reasons, as the Republicans learned when they went after President Bill Clinton. Welch seems to understand that impeachment may be the most potent political weapon when it remains in the holster.

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



Concord Monitor, Jan. 19

Lawmakers are once again debating whether to update the state’s nondiscrimination laws by adding protections for transgender people. We have long argued for such a measure, and we know well the argument of those who oppose it. The challenge for the Legislature is to sort through facts and testimony to determine who faces a greater threat in this state: those who come into contact with transgender people or transgender people themselves.

Under current law, the state protects people from discrimination based on age, sex, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, physical or mental disability, and national origin. House Bill 1319 would add the words “gender identity” to that list.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey provides guidance on why such a change is necessary. Of the 225 transgender people in New Hampshire who responded to the survey, 15 percent said they had lost a job because of their gender identity or expression. One in 5 reported being fired, denied a promotion or not hired based on their gender identity. Twenty-three percent said they had faced some form of housing discrimination. More than half said they avoided using a public restroom because they feared a confrontation. Many respondents also cited examples of discrimination involving education, health care and law enforcement.

We understand that there are many people in New Hampshire who have a difficult time wrapping their mind around the idea that a person can feel as though they were born in the wrong body. It is no small feat to see the world through the eyes of another, to experience their fear and pain as your own. We also understand that there are those who worry that somebody will use the protections proposed in House Bill 1319 in a way that could pose a danger to the public, especially women and children. But again, we ask lawmakers to consider what is more likely to happen: that without explicit protections many of the estimated 4,500 transgender people in New Hampshire will continue to face discrimination or that some bad actor will find a way to use those new protections to harm others.

As New Hampshire once again debates this important issue, we hope that all involved take the time to listen to those with whom they disagree and that logic overrides fear.

Online: http://bit.ly/2mR1Vbu



Portland Press Herald, Jan. 18

A nurse practitioner can give you a complete physical, order diagnostic tests, stitch up a cut - even prescribe medication.

Along with other advanced-practice clinicians, like nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists, they can deliver many of the same services that a doctor can, often working in places where there is no doctor available.

Republicans decry timing of attorney general’s bill to expand abortion access

But in Maine, they can’t watch you take a pill - if that pill is part of a medically induced abortion. A law that’s been on the books longer than the procedure has existed says that only doctors can do that here, and, as a result, women in this sparsely populated state sometimes can’t access the care they need.

This problem is the subject of a lawsuit, filed last year in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s also the subject of a bill submitted by Maine Attorney General Janet Mills. Lawmakers should pass the bill and not wait for the courts to straighten this out.

When the current law was passed in 1979, just six years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion, the doctors-only requirement was intended to protect women’s health and safety from back-alley abortionists. Today, however, instead of protecting patients, the law has the effect of denying women access to health care.

What’s changed is the invention of the medically induced abortion, which has been used in this country since 2000. The patient takes one pill in the presence of a health care provider, and takes doses of a second medication at home.

It is almost always effective, especially in the first weeks of a pregnancy. It’s not a surgical procedure and is clearly not what lawmakers had in mind when they passed the law in 1979.

Passage of Mills’ bill, L.D. 1763, would do two things. It would make abortion services available to women who live in parts of the state that aren’t near one of the three clinics where abortions are performed: Maine Family Planning in Augusta, the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor and Planned Parenthood in Portland. And approval of the proposal also would render moot the pending lawsuit that would unnecessarily run up the state’s legal bills.

Allowing advanced-practice clinicians to supervise women who take the abortion pill is not some wild idea. It’s the practice in nine states, including New Hampshire, where there are similar problems with access to health care in rural areas.

Mills’ sponsorship of the bill has drawn criticism from Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Ellie Espling, assistant floor leader for House Republicans, because Mills is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor. But Mills’ position on the provider bill would be an asset to her campaign only if the bill were something that voters wanted the state to do. Public officials should not be discouraged from promoting policies that most Mainers would consider to be good ideas.

A legislative outcome on this issue would be better than a judicial one, because lawmakers will listen to testimony from experts and have the ability to build in specific protections.

Nurse practitioners are highly trained professionals who are more than capable of delivering this service. We shouldn’t let political barriers create legal barriers between these providers and their patients.

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


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