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Editorials from around New England

January 4, 2019

Editorials from around New England:

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Republican of Springfield

Jan. 3

Whatever presidential hopes are being entertained by Bernie Sanders have hit their most imposing roadblock, one the Vermont senator may not be able to negotiate his way around.

The 2016 Sanders campaign has been accused of sexual harassment and gender disparity, apparently on a widespread scale. Sanders has apologized to the women who claim mistreatment, though he did so in a way that stops short of full accountability, and, he said, “of course if I do run, we will do better next time.”

His quote is revealing on two levels. It established Sanders as at least a de facto candidate in 2020. It also expresses his hope to get a do-over on sexual mistreatment, which makes Sanders no different than any number of others who have faced these accusations.

There is one significant difference. No one is accusing Sanders of personal misconduct. That’s important, but it raises the question of just how much accountability is to be assigned the leader of a far-flung national campaign, the likes of which he had never run before.

On this, Sanders is not so easily absolved of blame. Running for president speaks to his belief that he can politically manage the country. An inability to manage his own campaign, which by his apology he’s saying was deeply flawed, is not a strong advertisement.

The #MeToo movement has not shown much interest in granting do-overs and second chances. Sanders is asking for preferential treatment because he presumably stands for a lot of what liberal women do, but the days of liberals excusing bad behavior in the name of political alliances (as they did with the Kennedy and Clinton escapades) look to be fading — or over.

Sanders’ defense that he was “running around the country” and therefore unaware of the problems in 2016 is weak, even if it’s true. The lack of accountability overrides the fact he is personally untarnished.

Fair questions may also be raised about why it’s taken this long for these allegations to surface.

“I’m not the least bit surprised,” National Organization for Women President Toni Van Pelt told The Associated Press. Saying she was forced to block Sanders’ supporters from her social media feed in 2016,” Van Pelt said “to me, it was really clear this was the way they were running the campaign.”

Then why wasn’t this a significant campaign topic in 2016? That it was not clear to the voters in ’16 provides ammunition for conservatives and Republicans to claim that when liberal Democratic candidates are connected to questionable activities, mainstream media looks the other way — while pouncing on similar transgressions from the right.

If Van Pelt and her influential organization had such grievances about so-called “Bernie bros” in 2016, it certainly wasn’t transmitted to the general public. That’s odd because when NOW talks, the media usually listens. So should NOW have spoken more loudly, or did major outlets simply not listen?

If Sanders were to win the 2020 election, he would be 80 years old before his first year of office was over. America has never had a president who was 80, let alone one who became an octogenarian in his first year.

Even in a field that would include 70-somethings Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren and perhaps Hillary Clinton, Sanders’ age will at some point be an issue and given the demands of the job, that would not be unfair. He’s been given a pass on this so far, just as a federal investigation into a land deal involving his wife received only cursory, periodic attention.

It may be why one of the most pertinent questions that should have surfaced during his 2016 run — how America’s first Jewish president would handle the delicacy of negotiating with the nation’s Arab allies and adversaries, as well as with Israel — never really came up.

There may be an underlying reason for this kid-gloves treatment: deep down, a lot of people didn’t believe Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders could actually become president, and many still don’t. But that’s the same thing people said about Donald Trump.

Online: https://bit.ly/2sbb6qu

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CONNECTICUT

The Day

Jan. 3

Who could disagree with Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s planned bill that would require Coast Guard personnel to receive pay for their work? How ridiculous is the situation the nation finds itself in that Congress would even have to consider such a law as necessary?

Yet here we are. On Dec. 22 the federal government entered a partial shutdown. It is all about politics and grandstanding, not fiscal policy. The trouble it is causing for federal workers is real, however, as is the inconvenience and disappointment for those who planned to spend time visiting national museums and parks.

Among the agencies caught up in the shutdown is the Department of Homeland Security, under which the Coast Guard falls. About 7,400 civilian Coast Guard workers are on indefinite furlough while the shutdown drags on. But 42,000 active-duty Coast Guardsmen and about 1,300 civilians assigned to critical positions are considered essential and must continue reporting for duty, though without pay during the continuing partial government closure.

In fact, under federal rules, a government shutdown cancels all annual leave, including planned vacations or sick leave, for these essential personnel.

Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, chose New London, home to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, to make the announcement of his planned bill that would require paychecks to flow to these essential Coast Guard personnel.

The problem with Blumenthal’s proposal is that the withholding of pay and the furloughs are the symptoms. Blumenthal and Congress need to focus attention on curing the disease, meaning the political game playing that is prolonging this needless shutdown.

If Coast Guard personnel are to be paid, then why not border patrol agents, airline security workers and immigration enforcement personnel? They are also obligated to continue work without pay because they are judged essential.

The expectation is that all these personnel will receive back pay when the shutdown ends, but going without a regular pay check is a hardship.

All told about 420,000 employees are obligated as essential personnel to stay on the job without pay. About 380,000 federal workers are on unpaid furloughs.

Yet the more exceptions Congress carves out to pay employees without having approved expenditures for them, the easier it will become to instigate these political shutdown charades, which are already too common.

No, the better solution — the real solution — is for the folks elected to serve this country to do their jobs.

The nation finds itself here largely because President Trump wants to save face, but the Democrats, now in charge of the House of Representatives, are in no mood to provide him political cover.

Trump is asking Congress to approve $5 billion for construction of a wall along the Mexican border. Despite the president’s claims to the contrary, Mexico is in no way paying for it. That is why it requires a congressional expenditure.

As ridiculous as the idea of this 2,000-mile wall may be, this was among Trump’s signature campaign planks and the president fears he may see his loyal core of supporters diminish if he backs down too far.

Even Trump, in a moment of candor, acknowledged he is no longer talking about a massive concrete barrier. “We are not building a Concrete Wall, we are building artistically designed steel slats, so that you can easily see through it,” the president said in a recent tweet.

The Democratic leadership has offered only $1.3 billion for improved border security measures, but not a wall.

As noted in our earlier editorial, end the standoff by agreeing on a $2.5 billion investment in border security with physical barrier construction and improvement where it makes sense. As part of a compromise, provide legal status to the 750,000 or so Dreamers, those undocumented adults brought to the U.S. as children.

According to the New York Times, Trump was initially opposed to the $2.5 billion compromise, but appeared open to it in his meeting Wednesday with new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate’s Democratic minority leader. However, the Democrats were reportedly not budging off their number.

Blumenthal should try to persuade them they should.

Online: https://bit.ly/2VqPioe

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal

Jan. 3

It’s a truth nearly universally acknowledged that the coming decades will see massive job destruction as artificial intelligence grows ever more sophisticated and robots become ever more skilled. Truck driving, various manufacturing jobs, and sundry other blue collar careers look increasingly imperiled. So too do other growth industries such as restaurant jobs and home health aide gigs.

That’s not to say, however, that only physical or unskilled labor is in danger. It’s widely thought that lawyers, physicians and (gulp) journalists could also lose their jobs also en masse due to automation.

An era of mass unemployment and penury would undeniably be a dark one — a fate best avoided. What, therefore, is to be done? One increasingly popular suggestion is the introduction of a “universal basic income.” The idea is that every adult citizen would receive a certain stipend from the federal government each month.

As a recent piece in MIT Technology Review explained, “The idea is that all citizens receive a set amount of money from the government to cover food, housing, and clothing, without regard to income or employment status. This minimum stipend can be supplemented with wages from work. Advocates say it will help fight poverty by giving people the flexibility to find work and strengthen their safety net, or that it offers a way to support people who might be negatively affected by automation.”

There are a couple of problems with this idea. One is that it implies that the value of work is solely that it generates a paycheck. This is flawed: People derive much more than a living from their jobs; it oftentimes gives them a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Giving the newly unemployed attorney a universal basic income won’t help her regain her shattered sense of self.

Some of the people who work also find themselves endlessly devising better ways to do things — one of the ways society improves and expands wealth for all. Government handouts tend to depress initiative, to say the least.

Another problem with running willy nilly into a universal basic income scheme is that we simply don’t have enough data on whether such a system would work. There have been a few experiments, but they haven’t gone well.

The province of Ontario, Canada, last year began a universal basic income scheme involving 4,000 people. But politicians, fearing the cost, cancelled it just two months later, rendering any findings far too premature to be useful. The nation of Finland also experimented with universal basic income, but it also scuttled its pilot program.

To make such a system truly useful, it would cost a lot of money. The working age population of the United States stands north of 200 million. Giving each worker enough of a subsidy generous enough to actually live on would be enormously expensive. Trim the subsidy so that it’s merely bare bones, and you have cut costs, but at that point the income won’t be large enough to keep people out of poverty. It’s a conundrum.

The labor market will face profound disruption in the years ahead. Policymakers should think hard about how to ameliorate the negative consequences down the road. But at this point, universal basic income hardly seems like a panacea.

Online: https://bit.ly/2CPidLm

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VERMONT

Rutland Herald

Jan. 3

Bernie Sanders should not run for president. In fact, we beg him not to.

That is an unfavorable opinion, especially among most Vermonters and progressives who support the platform that has come to define him. But at this point, there are more things about another Sanders run at the White House that concern us than excite us.

In this space, we have repeatedly hit the senator on where his loyalties lay: Vermont or a bigger calling? We have asked him to make a choice, which he would argue was his recent re-election to Congress. But in his previous run for the presidency, Sanders, an independent who ran for the White House as a Democrat, missed dozens of votes that likely would have helped Vermonters. And, while he handily defeated his challenger, can Vermonters point to Sanders’ record and say definitively, “This is what he’s done for us?”

While he makes regular visits “home,” you are more likely to catch Sanders on Colbert, CNN or MSNBC than you are to see him talking to reporters here in Vermont. Evidently, microphones here don’t extend far enough.

But that’s not our greatest concern. We fear a Sanders run risks dividing the well-fractured Democratic Party, and could lead to another split in the 2020 presidential vote. There is too much at stake to take that gamble. If we are going to maintain a two-party system, the mandate needs to be a clear one. There is strength in numbers, and if anything has been shown in recent years, it is that unless tallies are overwhelming, there can always be questions or challenges raised over what “vote totals” really mean: popular vote vs. Electoral College results.

For us, this comes down to principle over ego. It is one thing to start a revolution, but at a certain point you need to know when to step out of the way and let others carry the water for you.

Sanders is a self-described socialist and a New Deal-era American progressive, who is pro-labor and emphasizes reversing economic inequality. He has developed a noteworthy following.

And, there have been progressive candidates, many of whom have been running under Sanders’ “revolution” banner (and with his endorsement) who are spreading the tenets of Sanders’ decades-old agenda: Rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure; reversing climate change; creating worker co-ops; growing the trade-union movement; raising the minimum wage; pay equity for women workers; trade policies that benefit American workers; making college affordable for all; taking on Wall Street; health care as a human right; protecting the most vulnerable Americans; and tax reform.

As a platform, it is massive. As a candidate, Sanders is exhausting.

All signs point to another run, even with accusations this week that Sanders’ campaign staff, during the 2016 run, engaged in sexist remarks, as well as claims of poor treatment and lower pay for women.

According to the New York Times this week, “Now, as the Vermont senator tries to build support for a second run at the White House, his perceived failure to address this issue has damaged his progressive bona fides, delegates and nearly a dozen former state and national staff members said in interviews over the last month.

“And it has raised questions among them about whether he can adequately fight for the interests of women, who have increasingly defined the Democratic Party in the Trump era, if he runs again for the presidential nomination in 2020,” a Times article notes.

In an interview Wednesday night on CNN, Sanders said he was proud of his 2016 campaign. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we did everything right, in terms of human resources,” he said. “I certainly apologize to any woman who felt she was not treated appropriately, and of course, if I run we will do better the next time.”

Asked by Anderson Cooper if he knew about the staff complaints, he said, “I was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case.” That response alone is inexcusable and insulting.

In recent weeks, a Facebook group for Sanders campaign alumni has become a sounding board for complaints about harassment, lewd comments and gender discrimination. Politico first reported on the claims.

And while none of the staff accusations have been levied against Sanders himself, his personality is abrasive. He is known to be difficult to work with. The 77-year-old can be bombastic and prickly. He can be dismissive and rude in his arrogance. You are either with Bernie Sanders or you are not.

That no-nonsense approach and his politics are endearing to many. But it is as extreme, on the other end of the spectrum in its policy elbow-throwing and idealism, as what we face today from the right in their standard bearer, Donald Trump.

Taken together — ego, electoral math, a tired message and a prickly media darling — Sanders is convincing himself that he’s the person who can win the White House in 2020. We are not convinced he should.

Online: https://bit.ly/2QlAraQ

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MAINE

Portland Press Herald

Jan. 4

And with so many young people at Long Creek, with children waiting for critical mental health services, and some even losing their lives to violence in their own homes, it is high time we put children’s health and safety first.”

That’s a quote from Gov. Janet Mills’ inauguration speech Wednesday night, the final example referencing the two deaths that spurred investigations into the state’s child protective system and, ultimately, led to a package of reforms passed late in the last legislative session.

Those reforms will continue under Mills, who as attorney general oversaw the criminal cases that arose from those deaths.

But she should also move quickly to close Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, the state’s only juvenile prison.

Closing Long Creek wouldn’t have a broad impact. But for the small number of kids who would be affected, it could be life-changing.

Most of the kids who end up at Long Creek do so not because they have committed a serious crime or are a danger to the community, but because there is no other place for them to go - nowhere that can deal with their complex behavioral and mental health care needs.

So, at a cost of about $250,000 per year per child, they are incarcerated in a punitive facility that is incapable of dealing with these troubled, vulnerable youths - and it only makes matters worse.

Despite the presence of good staff members, Long Creek is a prison - it is no place for an 11-year-old who has a mental illness or a 16-year-old who acts out, and placing them there alters their path forever. They don’t get the help they need, and told they are criminals, they start to believe it.

“Long Creek is not a treatment facility,” Maine Chief Justice Leigh Saufley said last year. “These kids are in lockdown. It changes who they are, it changes who they think they are.”

Closing Long Creek would just be the final step in a years-long process to improve juvenile justice. At one point last year there were roughly 65 juvenile inmates in Maine, down from more than 300 in 1997 and more than 180 just a few years ago, as more kids who are troubled and in trouble are dealt with in programs that stress education, treatment and restorative justice - and keep them connected to their community.

Mills should direct her administration to identify the small number of truly dangerous inmates at Long Creek and determine what kind of facility that population needs.

The state also should determine what sort of services are necessary to treat the remaining inmates once they are released into the community.

State Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, says he is submitting a bill that would establish a task force to do exactly that.

The new governor has the right people to make such a move. Michael Sauschuck, her nominee to lead the Department of Public Safety, and Randall Liberty, her choice for corrections, both understand what incarceration does to a developing brain, and neither Sauschuck nor Liberty is afraid of reform when it’s necessary.

Closing Long Creek would help only the relatively few Maine children who now end up there. For those children, though, it would make a big difference in their lives - not least by letting them know they are not a lost cause.

Online: https://bit.ly/2FawhR3

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

Nashua Telegraph

Jan. 4

Multiple reports of Nashua residents in the north end of the city getting brown water from their faucets make for an unsettling situation.

According to Nashua Alderwoman Patricia Klee, the problem seems to be that many pipes throughout the city are simply too old, too small, or lack the proper lining. This is causing some residents to find rust or manganese in their water, which creates the brownish color.

Imagine having to deal with brown water on a daily basis.

Are you or your children going to want to drink this water? Probably not.

Are you going to want to wash your clothes with it? Probably not.

Are you going to want to take a bath or shower with it? It seems unlikely.

In a city and region as affluent as Nashua and Southern New Hampshire - and in the year 2019 - no resident should have to deal with brown water on a regular basis. It is one thing if there is an accident or if water officials are performing some type of maintenance that may temporarily cause brown water. It is another thing to face it every day.

We urge officials with the city and Pennichuck Water Works to fix these problems as quickly as possible, while keeping the cost to the customer for said repairs as low as possible.

Online: https://bit.ly/2CQHpBd

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