Editorials from around New England
Editorials from around New England:
The Boston Globe
With two phone calls and a tweet, President Trump has engineered the exit of US troops from Syria, appeased not one but at least two autocrats, and made the world a more dangerous place.
This is what passes for US foreign policy today. And in the process, Trump has lost Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, one of the few grown-ups in the Neverland that the White House has become, and Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy to the international coalition fighting the Islamic State, both of whom resigned after the president’s decision.
All of this began following a call between Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey last week, after which Trump announced to a surprised military that ISIS had been “defeated” and he was bringing home the 2,000 US troops now on the ground in Syria.
US forces, in conjunction with the 72-nation coalition and Kurdish forces within Syria, have indeed succeeded in reducing the territory once held by the would-be caliphate, and with it much of the Islamic State threat. But reducing the threat is not eradicating it, and to think otherwise is hopelessly naive. And even those who support a withdrawal would agree that it should be done carefully: You can’t have an exit strategy without a strategy.
Enter our hopelessly naive president, who ignores the advice of his entire national security team, thumbs his nose at longtime allies, but wins the praise of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who insisted late last week, “Donald’s right.”
Jim Mattis will depart as defense secretary after his stinging criticisms of President Trump in his resignation letter. His deputy, Patrick Shanahan, will be acting secretary.
Only the last-minute pleas of US military leaders, who insisted on an orderly timetable for withdrawal, have kept this exit from looking like the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. In his second phone call with Erdogan in the past week, Trump tweeted Sunday that the two discussed “the slow & highly coordinated” troop pullout.
The danger is that not only could ISIS flare back up, but also that the sudden void created by the withdrawal could threaten US allies. Turkish troops are massing in northern Syria, with more crossing the border daily as they eye a possible offensive against Kurdish forces — yes, the same forces which have fought so bravely side by side with Americans against ISIS. It is one thing to give up the hope of regime change in Syria and know that the detested Bashar al-Assad — he who has gassed his own citizens — remains in charge. It is quite another to betray the Kurds and leave them vulnerable to an assault by Erdogan’s Turkey, which considers the militia a terrorist organization.
US forces have successfully prevented such Turkish “mission creep” in the region, but no longer.
Another big “winner” in this foreign policy debacle is, of course, Iran which has tens of thousands of “proxies” in the region fully prepared to fill the vacuum being created by this precipitous withdrawal of American forces. Iran’s alliance with the Assad regime and Russia could shift the balance of power permanently in the region.
Such is the power of one seemingly small exercise of presidential power — not to mention presidential peevishness.
There are few ways to curb the powers of the commander in chief, however poorly executed. But 2019 will be the year when Congress can and must reassert its own foreign policy role — a role it abdicated nearly a decade ago when it failed to exercise its right to approve American involvement in Syria. The consequences of that failure of courage have now come home to roost.
The next Congress must make clear that a Turkish attack on our allies the Kurds will result in sanctions. That human rights violations by any of the parties involved — and that would include the Assad regime, which is reportedly murdering thousands of political prisoners — will be punished.
There was a time when America stood for something on the world stage, when allies could count on this country to keep its word and its commitments. It will fall to Congress in the year ahead to help pick up the foreign policy slack until there is a change of occupant in the White House.
The Connecticut community has endured too many tragedies during recent Christmases.
In 2011, what’s become known as “the Stamford Christmas fire” took the lives of five people, including three young girls.
Six years ago, the nation joined Connecticut in unspeakable grief after Sandy Hook.
This year, a West Hartford girl died after apparently being stabbed by her brother; the girl’s mother, a well-known lobbyist in Hartford, was injured. It seems like everybody knows somebody who knows the family.
In Bridgeport, a 12-year-old boy was felled by a bullet meant for someone else. He was described as a “perfect kid.”
But Christmas is the annual reminder that even in the darkest times, there can be light.
Consider the helpers.
Those families that suffered losses this month quickly found themselves surrounded by love — by friends, neighbors and strangers who wanted so desperately to help that they put their own lives on hold and did whatever they could.
We are also deeply fortunate to have so many among us who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping others, neighbors or not.
The police, firefighters and EMTs who first responded to the tragedies — they are there only to help.
The social service agencies that take care of people in the aftermath of tragedy, like the Red Cross — they are full of people who want to help.
But it’s not just the sudden tragedies that bring out that light, that giving and caring nature.
Consider everyone working so hard to put an end to the opioid crisis. Helpers of the finest sort.
Or the caseworkers at the oft-beleaguered Department of Children and Families. Good people, trying to help the most vulnerable, not expecting any special recognition — they just go to work every day and try to make things better for those who have nobody else.
And the teachers. From those in the state’s struggling urban districts to those in Greenwich, or Yale, or in the prisons — helpers all, apparently dedicated to the crazy notion that they can make the world a better place in the future.
Consider the attorneys in the public defender’s office, working to ensure that even those unable to afford a lawyer have access to the justice system.
Elected officials, too: Most people in Connecticut who get into local politics do so because they believe they can make a positive difference, that they should give something back to their communities. Few do it with the goal of feathering their nests with taxpayer dollars. Most begin with the simple premise that they can help.
The thing about a giving, helping demeanor is that it isn’t flashy. The helpers generally don’t call attention to themselves. You have to look for them. But once you do, you see: They are everywhere.
Our helping nature is on display at this time of year, with charities running at full throttle, people handing out wrapped gifts to less fortunate children and stocking food kitchens. But it persists through the year. It seems there is no shortage to the need. But Connecticut people help. We always help.
With the ever-present budget crisis and a new legislature and governor in the Capitol in a few weeks, there will be much debate about how much it costs to provide social services to so many in need across Connecticut. We should remember that the costs may be high, but the benefits can be priceless.
With dire headlines every day, with such serious environmental problems and with all the malaise in the nation’s capital, it’s easy to despair. But we needn’t. We are surrounded by people who want to help — not just at Christmas, but throughout the year.
That’s the gift of Christmas: A light in the darkness, and the promise of a better future.
It is not enough that Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel displayed contempt for the First Amendment. It turns out that the state’s taxpayers have been forced to squander nearly $50,000 — and perhaps more — defending her stubborn crusade against the public. And those who champion the rights of the people to open courts and a government that is accountable have had to spend thousands more challenging her unconstitutional actions.
Between late April and Nov. 7, the last billing cycle available, the state shelled out $49,643 defending Judge Vogel’s position, according to the Rhode Island attorney general’s office. That is disgraceful, even by the standards of Rhode Island’s often poorly run government.
This goes back to a case in April, when Judge Vogel — in flagrant violation of the First Amendment — banned reporters from contacting what she called “my jurors.” Talking to jurors is one of the ways the public learns how our court system works. And that system belongs to the people, not to the judges.
A court administrator also denied a Providence Journal reporter’s request for a list of jurors in the case. Judge Vogel even sent out a letter to jurors stating that they should contact her first if they wished to talk to a reporter!
It should be needless to say that we don’t live in a dictatorship. We live in a free republic, in which the public has specific protections, including the First Amendment, to make certain that it knows what is happening with its government.
If our rights mean anything, judges are not permitted to make up the law as they go along. In fact, all Rhode Island judges are required to take an oath: “I, (name), do solemnly swear that I will support the constitution of the United States and the constitution and laws of this state ...”
Open courts are a key component of our freedom. Courts may not hide from the public names of jurors. Nor may they set conditions under which citizens may speak to each other after a trial — a blatant violation of the First Amendment. Case law is well-established and clear on these points.
Yet Supreme Court Justice Paul Suttell and Superior Court Presiding Judge Alice Gibney failed to protect the public. Nor did the governor or legislative leaders speak out. Apparently they concluded it is more important to stroke Judge Vogel’s ego than to defend the public’s rights and pocketbook.
U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe, of New Hampshire, has been asked to step in and right these wrongs. Meanwhile, under the pressure of legal action, the Rhode Island Superior Court has grudgingly agreed to release a form that helps the public identify jurors when requested. But Judge Vogel’s conduct in this case remains an issue.
While this drags on, the meter for legal bills is evidently running on the taxpayers. Those who oversee the courts don’t seem to care.
It is well known that state judgeships — which pay well and provide lavish pensions — are among the juiciest political plums in Rhode Island. Judges are often chosen more for their political connections than their legal acumen. But those who exploit their connections to win these posts should at least be required to show familiarity with the people’s constitutional rights and the case law surrounding the First Amendment.
The New York Times is reporting that the daughters of a late New York City podiatrist say a bone spur diagnosis, that got Donald Trump out of the Vietnam War, was a favor to the Trump family.
Dr. Elysa Braunstein and Sharon Kessel say their father, Dr. Larry Braunstein, rented office space in Queens, from Fred Trump, for decades. Dr. Braunstein wrote a doctor’s note to exempt Trump from military service in exchange for preferential treatment from his landlord.
“What he got was access to Fred Trump,” Elysa Braunstein said. “If there was anything wrong in the building, my dad would call and Trump would take care of it immediately. That was the small favor that he got.”
Knowing what a brave and principled leader Donald Trump is, it all seems so hard to believe.
The Bangor Daily News
Evoking Santa Claus while allowing states to take assistance away from poor people certainly doesn’t embody the Christmas spirit. Yet, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services gleefully compared Christmas to efforts that would make it harder for low-income Americans to access health care.
“The CMS sleigh has made deliveries to Kansas, Rhode Island, Michigan, & Maine this week to drop off signed #Medicaid waivers. Christmas came early for these Governors & we are proud to support local innovation all across this great country!” CMS Administrator Seema Verma posted on Twitter on Dec. 21.
Verma is talking about work requirements, a favorite tool of Republicans that are supposed to somehow magically make poor people less poor and more healthy, and more responsible. It’s faulty logic that’s already been employed in Maine, with Gov. Paul LePage instituting work requirements for food stamps that have led to more than 10,000 low-income adults losing those benefits here in one of America’s most food-insecure states.
CMS last week approved Maine’s application to impose work requirements and monthly premiums on Medicaid recipients, something LePage has been seeking for years.
On the campaign trail, incoming Gov. Janet Mills said she was opposed to such requirements. Maine does not have to implement the waiver and it shouldn’t.
A look at states that previously received waivers to impose work requirements for Medicaid — and the LePage administration’s own waiver application — prove that they are no gift to poor, working Americans. In fact, work requirements amount to a Grinch-like move to take health care away from them.
Kentucky was the first state to receive a waiver from CMS to impose work and community engagement requirements on Medicaid recipients. The Trump administration approved Kentucky’s application because, it said, employment can improve people’s health. Turns out, ensuring access to health care is what really improves people’s health.
One of Medicaid’s key objectives is “making medical assistance available” to the targeted populations, yet Kentucky officials projected 95,000 people would lose their Medicaid coverage as a result of the work requirements. For this reason, a judge invalidated Kentucky’s work requirements earlier this year, noting the contradiction of depriving people of health care through a program that is supposed to make that care more financially accessible.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has since approved a second work requirement proposal from Kentucky, which takes effect April 1.
Maine’s waiver application projects that, by 2022, nearly 4,600 people would lose coverage due to the work requirement policy who might otherwise have retained it. In addition, “providing medical assistance” is nowhere among the primary goals the LePage administration has outlined for imposing work requirements.
Arkansas was the first state to impose work requirements, on June 1. Since then, nearly 17,000 of that state’s residents have been unenrolled from its Medicaid program. Most were dropped for failing to report required work-related activity. This may not mean that they didn’t work but that they did not set up the online accounts required to enable them to report or experienced difficulty accessing or navigating the online portal. Poor households are more likely to lack internet access or appropriate devices to connect to the internet to submit documentation.
In November, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, a nonpartisan legislative agency that makes recommendations to Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services, expressed high concern about the amount of people being disenrolled in Arkansas and urged that process to be suspended pending further study and effort to increase awareness.
“The low level of reporting is a strong warning signal that the current process may not be structured in a way that provides individuals an opportunity to succeed, with high stakes for beneficiaries who fail,” the commission said in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.
It is also important to know that most recipients of federal help paying for health care already work. Nearly 80 percent of Medicaid recipients live in a household with at least one worker and 60 percent of non-disabled, working-age Medicaid recipients are working. They often work for small firms that do not offer affordable insurance or work several part-time jobs.
Kicking more people off the state’s Medicaid program, also referred to as MaineCare, doesn’t magically give them a job. But it does add to their struggle to obtain needed medical care.
That is not something Santa — or any policymaker truly seeking to improve access to health care — would be proud of.
The Nashua Telegraph
With winter bearing down, most people may not be thinking about a leisurely bicycle ride.
In Nashua, though, the VeoRide bike program is going strong, even in inclement weather.
In June, a fleet of bicycles were delivered to the city. Over the next several months, countless residents took advantage of the two-wheeled, light blue bikes to navigate the city.
Although the number of bikes have been reduced over the colder months, the program still is alive and well.
Last week, VeoRide set up booths along Main Street offering downloads for donuts, where anyone who downloaded the app could then receive a donut. The bikes cost 50 cents for 15 minutes of use.
About 25 of the bikes are still available use at two locations on the opposite ends of Main Street - City Hall and Riverside BBQ.
“We have been pleased with how the community has embraced bike share and used it for transportation and recreation the past several months,” VeoRide Communications Director Linda Jackson said in an email.
The program will be back in full force once spring hits. The company even is considering bringing other options to this mark, fat tire bikes.
“Ridership is down in the wintertime, but overall, we believe the usage has been good, as anticipated,” Jackson added.
With few major incidents with the VeoRide bikes, the program indeed has been a success in Nashua.
From just taking a ride down Main Street, to individuals using them for transportation - such as getting to and from work - let’s hope VeoRide continues to eye the city for growth and expansion.