Editorials from around New England
By The Associated Press
Aug. 31, 2018
Editorials from around New England:
The Providence Journal
There's nothing like an upcoming election to sharpen officials' interest in what the public thinks.
Last week, massive tie-ups on Route 195 heading into Providence from the east infuriated thousands of motorists, many of them presumably voters. The state closed off two of the five lanes on the northern span of the Washington Bridge to begin much-needed repairs, turning Route 195 into something akin to a parking lot.
Coming weeks before the Sept. 12 primary election and the Nov. 6 general election, the nightmare made some wags wonder whether Peter Alviti, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, was a secret plant from one of the campaigns of the opponents of Gov. Gina Raimondo.
But the public's outrage did not last long.
Within days, Mr. Alviti hit the pause button. He moved the traffic pattern back to what it had been while RIDOT engineers worked on a new plan to get tens of thousands of vehicles a day across the river while performing much-needed repair work on the bridge.
Does this indicate someone royally messed up?
Mr. Alviti, though, says the amount of traffic passing over the bridge and the exits affected made it very difficult to accurately model what would happen when the two lanes were closed off.
We will say this. Mr. Alviti quickly admitted something was wrong — within days, not weeks. He made himself accessible to the public to answer questions about the traffic mess. And he did something to fix the problem.
It is hard to ask for much more than that from public officials.
He and his engineers have been exploring ideas to keep five lanes of traffic going while the repairs are underway. That may involve creating a westbound high-speed slip lane traveling over the south span of the bridge, while creating another eastbound lane from the emergency lane to keep traffic moving on that side.
Thanks to a lane opening Monday, motorists exiting Route 44 onto Route 195 did not have to merge into traffic almost immediately but rather could continue in a dedicated lane until past the closed Gano Street exit. That also helped things flow much more smoothly.
This much is clear: This 18-month, $23 million project to repair the northern span of Washington Bridge had to be undertaken, as a matter of public safety. In the 20 years since work was last done, the span has been rotting away, with rusty reinforcement rods sticking out of concrete under the structure. This is one of the most important and heavily-traveled roadways in the state.
Nobody ever said repairing and maintaining Rhode Island's long-neglected bridges was going to be easy. But it must be done, and Governor Raimondo, the state Department of Transportation under her watch, and the state's General Assembly have all served the public well in getting this underway.
The governor came up with a plan for fixing Rhode Island's bridges as cheaply and quickly as possible, after her predecessors had kicked the can for decades. That kind of strong leadership is immensely important to the state.
President Donald Trump doesn't like some of Google's search results. His reaction? lash out at Google, of course.
When the reality TV star turned politician recently tore his eyes off of Fox News long enough to type "Trump news" into Google's search box, he was unhappy with the results. But rather than wondering how the internet search giant's algorithms work, or perhaps considering that maybe, just maybe, his administration wasn't functioning like the well-oiled machine that the sycophants on Fox continually praise, he threw himself a little fit. On Twitter, of course.
In a Tweet posted before sunrise on Tuesday, Trump wrote that the Google results when searching for "Trump news" are "RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD."
Trump's suggested solution? Regulation. Really. And this guy calls himself a Republican.
Remember back when members of the once-Grand Old Party would blanch at the merest suggestion of government meddling in business? Remember the notion, nearly sacred in the minds of most Republicans, of maintaining a free and unfettered internet?
And this is to say nothing of the First Amendment to our Constitution, which prohibits government suppression of speech. Here's betting that internet searches would be considered speech in a court battle over any Trump-initiated attempt to get Google to display more favorable results.
There's another way to think about all of this, of course. As a rule of thumb, when you Google yourself at work, it's time to call it a day. It's a sure sign that you aren't likely to be productive at all going forward.
Consider this when reflecting upon the truly sad fact that the president of the United States, which used to be considered the most important job on the planet, has been spending time Googling himself. When he isn't glued to the TV, gazing lovingly at his favorite Fox News personalities.
Or think of the matter in another light. Imagine a fan that types "Mets news" into Google's search box and is dismayed to find only bad news about the fourth-place team. And then blames Google for being rigged against the Mets and their fans.
Google returns a slew of bad news on a search for the president's doings because there's so much bad news. And the clueless president keeps on generating more of it each and every day. He tweets and tweets and tweets, watches some more TV, takes a moment to badmouth Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, rants about the "rigged witch hunt" being conducted by special counsel Bob Mueller, perhaps imposes a couple of new tariffs. All before noon.
If he wants to see what's making Google return so many negative stories on a search for "Trump news," all he's got to do is take a look in the mirror.
The Connecticut Post
Teachers handle many details as they prepare their classrooms for the start of school this week in many local districts. Packing a gun should not be on the list with pencils, notebooks and good-job stickers.
Arming teachers was a horrendous idea when first floated by President Donald Trump in response to the Parkland, Florida high school shootings that killed 17 on Valentine's Day. The notion is no less appalling now, yet Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering allowing districts to use federal funds to buy guns for teachers.
It is shocking that someone in charge of education for the country would think it's worthwhile to siphon money from student enrichment and safe classroom projects to give teachers guns. No one benefits, except the firearms industry.
DeVos' proposal was reported Thursday as she prepares her fourth and last school safety listening session in Alabama this week.
The message to her must be strong and clear: Taxpayers don't want their money spent on arming teachers. It is a misguided and ineffective solution that would not make classrooms safer.
Even with trained law enforcement officials in armed confrontations, only 20 percent of the shots fired hit the intended target, Newtown Action Alliance said, referencing the nonprofit Violence Policy Center. How could a teacher with less training do any better in a crowded classroom when faced with an AR-15?
Teachers want to focus on teaching, as they should. The National Education Association found that 74 percent of teachers surveyed are opposed to arming them. Guns do not belong in schools and telling teachers they must have one will not stop gun violence. If anything, it would discourage promising future teachers from entering the profession.
Psychologically, students see what should be a safe refuge for learning becoming a place of fear with a weapon ever present in the classroom.
Congress can block this dreadful proposal, but given its lack of meaningful action to address gun violence we have little faith the majority will do what's right for school children.
The responsibility for action lies with each of us. Call DeVos (202-401-3000) and tell her you are against requiring teachers to carry guns in the classroom.
Be proactive and urge school districts to adopt the Know the Signs program offered by Sandy Hook Promise that trains students and educators to "know the signs of gun violence and how to properly intervene when they learn someone is a threat to self or others to prevent gun violence before it happens."
School safety has been a grim concern since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012, and before that Columbine High School in 1999, now made even more urgent with the Parkland killings.
Making schools safer begins with stopping violence before it starts, not by arming teachers. Students are not safer with guns at the head of the classroom.
The Times Argus
Haters really gotta hate. Trolling has become the blood sport of the modern age. Somehow, it is "entertaining" to some to turn any topic — no matter how benign — into mean-spirited cyber bullying. Even old-fashioned harassment and public shaming is en vogue.
The popular rabbit holes down which trollers scurry include the online comments section of a newspaper and on Facebook.
Innocent commenters are such easy prey.
According to a series of Wired articles — the Great Tech Panic — Vermont is the worst of the worst in America when it comes to online trolls. Wired partnered with Disqus, an online commenting platform, to determine who among us is the most hateful. Per capita, more than 12 percent of all online comments generated here were considered "trolling."
Disqus analyzed 92 million comments over a 16-month period, written by almost 2 million authors on more than 7,000 forums that use Disqus software. In all, nearly 25 percent of all comments made were generated by trolls.
"The proportion of crummy comments is higher here than in any other state," the author of the online article wrote of Vermont. (Ironically, New Hampshire took the prize for being the least toxic state in the U.S.) Iowa came in second with 10.3 percent; Nevada was third worst at 10.1 percent.
Disqus co-founder Daniel Ha said toxic posts have been an issue from Day One, and he sees it as a human problem — not a technological one: "It's never really going to go away."
According to an online article in Big Think, trolls really do hate because they feel they have to.
"Trolls glorify in their own worldview. As such, they bait others of different bends on social media in order to mock and abuse them. They're motivated by a need for attention, by boredom, by a flash of excitement due to causing others pain, or by exacting revenge," the article states. "Besides the uncomfortable aspects one might shake off, internet trolls spread spurious accusations, ruin reputations, and have even caused cases of suicide. It's important to understand the phenomenon of trolling and those who perpetrate it, as some research suggests it may be more pervasive and cause longer lasting damage than traditional anti-social behaviors."
Headlines today seem to be filled with examples. The lack of civility or meaningful dialogue seems to be mired in patterns that only a psychologist could probably unravel.
Having access to information through articles and other online resources should not be discouraged. In fact, in its purest form, it should be celebrated for allowing some of the most thoughtful discussions ever.
But, no. Trolls suck. The Wired/Disqus data showed:
— Park Forest, Illinois, is the most toxic city in America, where 34 percent of comments are hostile. Notably most of the comments originate from or are instigated by a handful of authors.
— Sharpsburg, Georgia, is the least toxic city in the U.S.
— Bellflower, California, wins the distinction of being the most unlike its neighbors; while it isn't the most toxic city in the U.S., it is 335 percent more toxic than the rest of California.
— Beverly, New Jersey, (population 2,513) has the chattiest commenters in the U.S.: 114 authors are responsible for more than 150,000 comments. That averages out to 1,317 comments each.
On the clock, the most toxic time of day is 3 a.m. (when about 11 percent of all comments go mean). And the most talkative time of day is 9 p.m.
Studies show trolls have short attention spans. "With trolling, the attack must captivate an audience, whereas with cyber bullying it may not be required. Without the shock and attention of others, trolls quickly get bored and move on to the next platform to begin baiting other unsuspecting victims," one study found.
One facet of social media that's given space for trolls to thrive is the "online disinhibition effect." This is the idea that one can remain anonymous online and so not experience any of the negative social impacts that similar face-to-face encounters elicit.
Unsurprisingly, trolls usually have poor social skills. Rather than act as an outlet for pent-up frustration, researchers found that trolling actually ended in negative psychological outcomes for the troll, even though they were the perpetrator.
Unfortunately, free speech allows trolls to be trolls. But like any bully, they're also cowards. And they're probably compensating for a lack of something else in their lives.
It's sad that Vermont has earned this particular distinction. The topic is not benign; it's shameful.
Some friendly advice in the meantime: Don't read the comments. It's a good way to get hurt.
The Concord Monitor
Last month, the New York Times devoted an entire issue of its Sunday magazine to a single, 30,000-word account of the missed opportunity by the world's nations to address the dangers posed by global warming.
The article, "Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change" by Nathaniel Rich, spans the years between 1979 and 1989, when the link between humankind's burning of fossil fuels and climate change became broadly known, as did, to a majority of climate scientists, the need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The failure to make more than token reductions in carbon emissions is now being felt globally.
In New Hampshire, they can been seen by warmer winters, a shorter maple syrup season, increased coastal flooding and a longer growing season.
Rich tells the story largely through the eyes of four people, Rafe Pomerance, then director of the environmental group Friends of the Earth; NASA scientist and climate change expert James Hansen; then-Sen. Al Gore, an early herald of climate change; and then New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu, who tellingly became President George H.W. Bush's chief of staff.
Sununu, whose son Chris currently serves as governor and whose son Michael is one of the state's more vocal climate change skeptics, emerges as the villain of the piece, the man who almost single-handedly thwarted the first major international effort to limit carbon dioxide emissions. Attempts to reach the former governor were unsuccessful, but we urge him, should he choose to do so, to comment on Rich's version of history.
As chief of staff, and armed with a doctorate in mechanical engineering from MIT, the senior Sununu felt qualified to declare Hansen's work on climate change bunk and "technical poppycock." The science underlying the link between warming and the combustion of fossil fuels, Sununu believed, was insufficient to warrant government action or societal expense. He thus, as Rich tells it, sabotaged that first international meeting held in the Netherlands to produce the basis of a global treaty to limit carbon emissions by appointing a climate change skeptic to the negotiating team. His appointee was given orders to prevent any U.S. commitment to limits. Sununu's effort was a success and no agreement was forged.
Meanwhile, global carbon emissions increased.
New Hampshire was party to the debate in those years, and not only because John H. Sununu governed the state between 1983 and 1989. Gore, as one of seven Democrats vying to become their party's presidential nominee in 1988, attended four Monitor editorial board meetings. One of the things he discussed was climate change. That year, the Monitor published its first editorial urging action to combat global warming. Pomerance, too, came to the paper for an editorial board meeting and echoed Gore's message. Since then, despite efforts by nations that range from token to substantial, levels of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere have increased by 15 percent.
Near the end of his account, Rich asked the elder Sununu whether he felt responsible for killing the attempt at a global climate accord. His answer was both cynical and accurate. "It couldn't have happened," he told Rich, "because frankly, the leaders of the world at that time were at a stage where they were all looking @ how to seem like they were supporting the policy without having to make hard commitments that would cost their nations serious resources." Sununu's next sentence is chilling.
"Frankly, that's about where we are today."
The relocation of people on low-lying islands has already begun. Glaciers millennia-old are disappearing. Deserts are expanding. Droughts and crop failures are increasing. And seas are rising. If New Hampshire's former governor is right that governments still lack the will to sacrifice for the sake of the future, the worst is yet to come.
The Portland Press Herald
Maine's population is expected to grow by less than half of one percent a year before it peaks in 2020, and begins to shrink.
If you think that's good news, think again.
Population decline goes hand in hand with economic ruin. Where there are not enough workers, investment dries up, jobs vanish and fewer people are left paying the bills.
That's why the state economist and others identify migration as essential to the survival of the oldest state in the country, where nothing is growing faster than the percentage of people who are too old to have babies. The only way to grow is through migration of people from other states and from abroad.
A new report by the city of Portland and the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce offers a glimpse of how people born in other countries — the ultimate "people from away" — can contribute to a local economy. The experience in southern Maine shows that an influx of immigrants is something to welcome, not fear.
The study looked at a five-year period beginning in 2011. Greater Portland still has a much lower foreign-born population than the country as a whole, but it is growing locally at a much faster rate than the region's population as a whole, and the people who come here from other countries are playing a disproportionate role in the economy.
Immigrants make up only 4.6 percent of the population (as opposed to nearly 15 percent nationally). But immigrants account for over 5 percent of the working-age population in Greater Portland and 6 percent of the workers in science and technology jobs.
A higher percentage of immigrants hold college degrees than the general population and they have a higher rate of starting businesses. And according to the report, they added $1.6 billion to the local economy.
There is a lot that this report did not measure. There are costs to integrating a foreign-born population, such as providing language training in some cases or assisting with food and housing for asylum seekers who are legally prevented from working.
But it's a mistake for Mainers to focus only on the costs and not the benefits.
Maine's future will be bleak if we don't grow the workforce. Greater Portland is showing how to do it.