Editorials from around New England
By The Associated Press
Aug. 18, 2017
Editorials from around New England:
The Day (New London)
The editorial writers at the newspaper north and west of us, The Hartford Courant, took the state legislature to task Wednesday for failing to do its job and produce a budget. The fiscal year began July 1.
The editorial pointed out school systems across Connecticut must prepare to begin the school year uncertain as to how much state aid they will receive. Fearing the worst, some districts, it noted, have cut teachers and extracurricular activities, leading to larger class sizes and fewer programs to reach kids.
Meanwhile, its editorial states, the legislature is "dealing and dickering and stalling and stammering."
Nothing to disagree with there.
The editorial, however, generated response letters from both House Republican leader Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby and Senate Republican President Len Fasano of North Haven. In their letters the two leaders said, in so many words, "Don't blame us."
"Had Republicans been in charge, we would have passed a two-year budget by the end of the regular session on June 7," wrote Klarides. "Why is it that the Courant fails to point out who is responsible for the failed budget process?"
"Republicans have proposed multiple budgets that could have been voted on that achieved all (the Courant) asked for. We've updated our proposals and compromised," wrote Fasano. "But not once did The Courant ever give Republicans credit for solving the problem ."
Well, The Day has given the Republicans credit for bringing budget proposals to the table, unlike their Democratic counterparts. Senate Republicans, in particular, have taken the most straightforward approach to the matter.
Indeed, the lion's share of the blame for the state not having a budget certainly rests with the Democrats. That party has long controlled both chambers of the legislature and held the governorship since 2011. Though its majorities are now slim — 79-72 in the House and 18-18 in the Senate, with its control there dependent on the tie-breaking power of the lieutenant governor — Democrats nonetheless remain the ruling party.
Yet as this stalemate drags on, Republicans do not escape all blame.
Those budgets the Republicans proposed depended on changes in labor rules, and resultant labor savings, which never had a political path to gain enactment. So while it may be true that "had Republicans been in charge" they would have passed such a budget, the reality is that they were not in charge and knew the labor portion of the budget they were presenting could not gain enactment.
Instead, Democrats, on a nearly straight party-line vote, adopted a negotiated labor concession deal, with projected savings of $1.6 billion over the next two years, leaving a deficit of about $3.4 billion to address. It had no Republican votes.
Republicans, in particular, objected to extending the contract that governs benefits with the state unions from the current expiration in 2022 to 2027. We get it. They did not consider the concession savings enough to do that. It provides them a great issue to use against the Democrats in the 2018 House and Senate elections.
But Republicans could well provide the votes to end the stalemate in Hartford and get a budget passed. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is open to amending some of the mandates, bidding and labor rules that make it difficult for towns and cities to find savings or to cooperate on regional solutions.
These are ideas Republicans have long embraced. It is possible a coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats could work with the governor in adopting a budget with some of the structural change Connecticut's GOP has long said it wanted.
But politics could well get in the way. State Republican lawmakers may conclude they finally have the Democrats on the ropes politically. Having seen their ideas for state labor savings rejected, the Republican leadership could make the calculation that they are better off politically letting Democrats own this mess and keeping their fingerprints off a final budget that is sure to have unpopular elements.
It that's the political calculation, fine. But if this stalemate drags on for weeks, Republicans should shelve the smug protestations that they have nothing to do with it.
Donald Trump's presidency is unraveling before our eyes.
The businessman-president, the first man elected to our nation's top office without prior political or military experience, has lost the support of business leaders.
On Wednesday, a day after Trump renewed his outrageous defense of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, the president's two main groups of business leaders disbanded. Though Trump endeavored to spin the tale so it would seem that he'd ended the high-profile councils, the fact is, the business leaders themselves decided to abandon ship. Because they could see clearly that there was no sense sticking around as the hapless captain steamed directly into the rocks.
Remember when then-candidate Trump promised: "We're going to win so much. You're going to get tired of winning."
Except for those who've got a sick and twisted definition of winning, that message is ringing plenty hollow right about now.
Though the official ending date of Trump's presidency is still to be determined, the point of no return came on Tuesday, when the reality TV star turned politician put on what was undeniably the worst performance of his lifetime. And one of the worst from any U.S. president in history.
Trump, again blaming "both sides" for the deadly violence in Charlottesville, added that there were "very fine people" among both the racist, anti-Semitic marchers and those who demonstrated against their rally.
Really. "Very fine people." The marchers — some chanting "Jews will not replace us! — are the scum of the earth. So too are those supporting them.
The message for Trump ought to be crystal clear: The people are plenty tired, Mr. President, but not of winning. They are tired of the invective that routinely spills from your mouth. They are tired of your defense of the indefensible. They are tired of your moral failures, of the unrelenting disaster that is your presidency.
Again and again and again, during the presidential campaign and through the first nearly seven months of Trump's time in office, it's been easy to imagine that a certain comment, some bit of particularly bad behavior, would be the straw that would finally break the camel's back. But nothing stuck. Nothing knocked the real-estate mogul down and kept him down permanently.
Until now, that is.
If this feels different, that's because it is different.
A Republican president ought to be able to count on business leaders as his natural constituency. But not a president who is a neo-Nazi sympathizer.
For too long, plenty of people have looked the other way, excusing Trump's boorish, unmoored behavior, his crude comments, his race-baiting.
Consider: During Trump's presidential campaign kickoff in June 2015, he said Mexico was sending rapists and criminals to the United States. Throughout the campaign, he routinely used coded language meant to appeal to those harboring the worst kind of racial animus. He mocked a disabled reporter. A tape was released of Trump boasting of being able to get away with assaulting women, grabbing them without their consent, because of his celebrity.
And so many were somehow able to shrug these things off.
There'll be no more looking the other way, hoping that another flare-up will soon enough blow over. It won't.
Some in the torch-bearing mob in Charlottesville were chanting Nazi slogans as they terrorized the bucolic college town. There were no fine people in that crowd. And none supporting them.
Our nation cannot abide a president who is in league with white nationalists and neo-Nazis. The business leaders wisely walked. It's time for others — anyone in the White House with a conscience, for a start — to do the same.
The Providence Journal
It's understood that police departments often require secrecy in their work, without which they could not pursue investigations of criminal activity or even follow through on some of their more mundane efforts to protect people and encourage law and order.
But that does not mean the police should make it a practice to withhold information about misconduct by officers, claiming that the release of such information is of little public interest. Few statements could be further from the truth.
Police departments, like other government entities, are paid by the public to serve the public, and the police wield great authority in doing so. Police officers often put themselves in dangerous situations and often deserve our praise. But how a department conducts itself is of great public interest, and police leaders and elected leaders should not hide behind a nebulous claim of a right to privacy.
The City of Pawtucket is making such a claim in the face of a request by the Rhode Island Accountability Project, a group that says its aim is to "restore accountability and transparency in local government and law enforcement" by making use of the state's Access to Public Records Act. While at least 23 police departments across the state have complied with the group's request for records on complaints of police misconduct, and others are following through, Pawtucket has released only records on complaints made by the public, and refuses to release records based on internal complaints.
The city's solicitor, Frank Milos, says releasing that information would amount to an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island. Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, meanwhile, says the city "continues to be open and transparent in its handling of requests and complaints, and seeks to provide as much information as possible, while balancing the rights of victims, families and personnel."
What his statement does not acknowledge is that Pawtucket has refused to even release reports with names redacted. His statement also ignores the fact that the Rhode Island Supreme Court has ruled that final reports of investigations into police misconduct are public records — making no distinction between investigations initiated because of internal or external complaints. As R. Kelly Sheridan, a lawyer handling the case for the ACLU, put it: "The open records statute will be reduced to a nullity if police officials can refuse to release public records" based on a "subjective determination" that "there is no compelling interest in disclosure."
Perhaps Mayor Grebien, who last year withheld reports on a murder-suicide, should take a look at that state Supreme Court ruling. He might also want to consider that sending a message that the city favors secrecy won't be of any help to his campaign to seek public dollars for a new baseball park that would keep the Pawtucket Red Sox in Pawtucket. Rhode Islanders already have enough cynicism about public officials seeking the public's money.
As the people who organized the Rhode Island Accountability Project no doubt understand, it is time for public officials in Rhode Island to remember who they work for when they are asked to release public information. It's time to put the public back in public service and stop the continual erosion of the taxpayers' right to know.
Last week, Gov. Paul LePage took a swipe at another of his perceived political opponents.
This time, he targeted Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap for Dunlap's refusal to comply with a request for voter data by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
The commission recently renewed its request for information that includes driver's license and partial Social Security numbers.
According to a statement from Dunlap, the second request was not discussed at the commission's first meeting on July 19, nor in discussions thereafter. Now Dunlap says this action raises concerns about the process.
"If we're going to act as a commission, we should really be considering the entire request for data as a body, and determining what it is we're researching and how to look for it," said Dunlap.
LePage said the request is needed in order to "clean up voter registries."
Maine is one of 14 states, along with Washington D.C., that is not handing over that information.
In refusing the commission's request, Dunlap is acting in accordance with Maine law in order to protect the privacy and rights of Maine people.
Now, it's been reported that the commission may actually put the security of voting systems at risk.
"By compiling a national list of registered voters, the federal government could provide one-stop shopping for hackers and hostile foreign governments seeking to wreak havoc with elections, critics say," the Associated Press reports.
"The best way to protect people's private information," Dunlap said in concluding the AP report, "is not to have it in the first place."
We've written before that the commission ought to be dismantled. Frankly, it should never have been formed in the first place, but to assuage the fragile ego of a president who cannot accept that, while he won the electoral college, he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million. Trump famously blamed his loss of the popular vote on illegal voting, a claim that has never been substantiated.
For LePage, a Republican, it's a partisan issue, claiming Dunlap "takes his orders from the Democratic Party."
Yet, asking Dunlap to comply with a request incompatible with state law puts politics ahead of people.
Gov. LePage has, thankfully, only about year-and-a-half before he's termed out of office. With far more pressing issues in Maine, he ought not to spend that time at the behest of a corrupt president's imaginary problem.
According to a report in the Boston Globe, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) police recently decided to keep all arrests secret.
In a move that defies the spirit and letter of open record laws, the MBTA is redacting the names of everyone it cites or arrests.
"The MBTA is violating the public records law and is interfering with the ability of the public to keep a watchful eye on the department," local lawyer Whitfield Larrabee said. "There is no good reason to violate the public records law in this manner."
Larrabee is right. But as shocking a move as it clearly is, it's hardly a surprise. The MBTA's pivot to secret arrests honors Massachusetts' tried-and-true hostility toward transparency.
Last year the Massachusetts Supervisor of Public Records Shawn Williams and Secretary of State William F. Galvin were among finalists for the 2016 Golden Padlock — a dubious distinction that recognizes the country's most secretive, publicly-funded people and agencies. As Robert Cribb, chair of the Golden Padlock committee explains, "Thwarting the public's right to know has become a mission statement inside many government bureaucracies across the country . This award recognizes tireless commitment to that principle and honors the most creative ways in which it is executed every day by determined civil servants."
This comes after the Massachusetts State Police "won" the award in 2015 for "habitually going to extraordinary lengths to thwart public records requests, protect law enforcement officers and public officials who violate the law and block efforts to scrutinize how the department performs its duties."
In Vermont all arrests and criminal citations are unambiguously and explicitly public thanks to the state's open record law and a critical Supreme Court victory we secured in 1991. In Caledonian-Record Pub. Co. Inc. V. Walton, the Vermont Supreme Court rightly concluded "The public interest in knowing what the government is doing is particularly acute in the area of law enforcement ...
"Both an arrest and the issuance of a citation involve a finding by a law enforcement officer that there is probable cause to believe a person has committed a crime and both involve the commencement of a criminal proceeding based on that finding. In many instances under Criminal Rule 3, law enforcement has discretion in choosing whether to use the extreme power of arrest or, alternatively, to summon the alleged offender into court without an intervening restraint on liberty. In a modern criminal justice system, it is important that the use of this discretion be exposed to public view, if only to demonstrate that the discretion is exercised in a responsible and nondiscriminatory way. A partial disclosure of the results of this discretion, only when it results in an arrest, does not respond to the legitimate public interest."
The High Court's conclusion ... "we hold that citations, like arrest records, are public records."
There's an obvious public interest in publishing arrest records because: It informs the public, from whom police derive all of their power, about the people in their communities suspected of breaking the law; It holds government accountable by providing an official record of who they've investigated, and for what; It guarantees that those arrested will be afforded their full rights following an intrusive government action — namely their forcible removal from society.
The MBTA could not possibly be more wrong, or dangerous, in its thinking. Secret arrests had their place under Stalin, Hitler, Zedong, Hussein and Assad, but they don't behoove anyone — least of all the person being forcibly detained — in a free society.
Arrests are newsworthy events and the media has the constitutional right and obligation to publish factual information from unsealed government records. An independent media, with access to those official records, is society's only meaningful protection against a government with the power to investigate and detain citizens.
The Concord Monitor
The field is called regenerative medicine, technology that shows promise of repairing or replacing human organs with new ones, healing injuries without surgery and, someday, replacing cartilage lost to osteoarthritis.
New Hampshire could become one of the centers of the new industry and become the next Silicon Valley, says Manchester inventor Dean Kamen. The governor and Legislature, however, aren't doing what they need to make the potential economic and intellectual boom more likely.
Sever the spinal chord of a zebra fish, an aquarium standby, and it will regrow in a couple of weeks. Remove a limb from a salamander, and it will grow another one indistinguishable from the first. And even some humans, especially when young, can regrow a new fingertip and fingernail on a digit severed above its last joint. Medical science is moving ever closer to performing such wonders.
3-D bioprinters that use biologic materials instead of printer ink are already printing replacement human skin. A University of Connecticut scientist and surgeon believes it will be possible to regenerate human knees sometime in the next decade and regrow human limbs by 2030.
At Ohio State University, a team has succeeded in using genetic material contained in a tiny microchip attached to skin and, with a tiny, Frankenstein-like zap of electricity, reprogram skin cells to produce other types of human cells. Turn a skin cell into say, a vascular system cell, and it will migrate to the site of a wound, spur healing and restore blood flow. Convert skin cells to brain cells and, with a few more steps, it could help stroke victims recover. The technology's potential is enormous.
Kamen created the portable insulin pump, and he and his team at DEKA Research in Manchester's millyard produced the Segway human transporter, a device that provides clean water in places that lack it, an external combustion engine that will soon heat and power part of the state's mental hospital, and other inventions. Their track record helped Kamen and DEKA beat out plenty of other applicants to win $80 million in federal funds to found ARMI, the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute in Manchester. Total funding is now just shy of $300 million.
The government's aim is to spur technologies that could be used to treat injured soldiers but what's learned could aid everyone and make New Hampshire a mecca for scientists, production facilities, pharmaceutical companies and more. DEKA will not create the new technologies but use its inventing and engineering expertise to help companies scale up and speed up regenerative medicine technologies so they can be brought to the market more quickly at an affordable cost.
The state's university system has partnered with DEKA to train students who will one day work in the biotech field. The educational infrastructure is in place, but it's handicapped by the state's sorry funding of higher education. New Hampshire regularly ranks last or next to last in state support and its students carry the most debt of any in the nation.
To make New Hampshire the biotech mecca Kamen envisions will require lawmakers to better fund higher education, support the regenerative manufacturing institute and make housing available. A high-tech company that wants to come to New Hampshire can't do so if its workers can't afford a home.
Regenerative medicine is expected to become a massive economic engine, one that will create jobs and improve lives while lowering health care costs. The Legislature should be doing all it can to make sure that at least some of that engine is designed and made in New Hampshire.