AP NEWS

Editorials from around New England

March 2, 2018

Editorials from around New England:

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CONNECTICUT

The Connecticut Post, March 2

When Congress, which should represent the will of the people, refuses to act, then it is incumbent upon the states to step into the breach.

Congress has failed — for years — to enact even the simplest, common-sense legislation to protect Americans from escalating gun violence. Not even the slaughter of 20 first graders and six educators five years ago could budge a majority of Congress, though there is a glimmer of hope for some sort of action after the shooting deaths of 14 high school students and three educators in Parkland, Florida two weeks ago.

Governors of several forward-thinking states cannot — and should not — wait for Congress to act. Someone in leadership has to summon courage and take charge for the sake of public safety.

The governors of four Northeast states — Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island — announced Feb. 22 a new coalition called States for Gun Safety and were joined Monday by the governors of Delaware, Massachusetts and Puerto Rico. Together they represent more than 35 million Americans.

Through sharing information collected on law enforcement databases, the coalition intends to halt the flow of illegal out-of-state guns. Specifically, the agreement enables law enforcement intelligence centers to share information about those who are prohibited from buying or owning a firearm for various reasons and to trace the use of out-of-state firearms in crimes.

Also, the group will designate a university to participate in the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium, which collects data and will make recommendations for ways to reduce gun violence. National research efforts have been stymied since 1996 when a Republican-majority Congress banned the use of federal funds to study gun violence.

As important as what the States for Gun Safety coalition will do, notice also what it will not do.

It will not enact tougher new gun legislation. Its task is to coordinate and better enforce what already exists. Even the most ardent Second Amendment advocates could not reasonably argue with enforcing existing regulations.

We encourage more states to join the coalition and further strengthen the network of sharing information.

But there is just so much that the states can do. Congress must — finally — act.

Only Congress can enact universal background checks, as it should. Only Congress can strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and close loopholes, as it should. Only Congress can move to outlaw bump stocks, devices that let rifles fire bullets as rapidly as machine guns, as it should.

These are small, incremental steps that Congress must take now.

President Donald Trump appeared receptive to some measures, such as expanded universal background checks when meeting Wednesday with a bipartisan group of elected leaders, including Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th, to discuss school and community safety in light of the Parkland shootings. Time will tell.

In the absence of a strong political will in the majority of Congress, however, the states must do what they can to protect citizens.

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

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MASSACHUSETTS

Telegram & Gazette, Feb. 25

We’re at war and our democracy is at stake. If you want to understand what the Russians have been up to for nearly four years, just look at what happened in the wake of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

It didn’t take long. People awoke the day after the shootings to a barrage of “Russia-linked accounts” attempting to nefariously stir up the American passions of gun control versus gun rights. That was a take that we published in the Telegram & Gazette this past week in a column by Anne Applebaum — a view confirmed by other publications in subsequent days. She’s a columnist for The Washington Post who is a professor at the London School of Economics and co-director of a program studying disinformation and 21st-century propaganda. She wrote:

“According to Hamilton 68, a tracker website created by the German Marshall Fund, a lot of (the Russian accounts) linked to photos of guns and ammunition on the Instagram account of the suspected killer, plus a screenshot of a Google search for ‘Allahu akbar.’ ... By Friday morning, some of the same accounts were also pushing something slightly different: the hashtag #falseflag. That’s a reference to the conspiracy theory, already widespread 48 hours later, that the shooting never happened, that the attack is a ‘false flag’ operation staged by the U.S. government as a prelude to the seizure of guns.”

She continued: “Each group has its own interests in pushing #falseflag, but the Russian interest is clear. They do it because it helps undermine trust in institutions — the police, the FBI, the media — as well as in the government itself. They also do it because it helps to amplify extremist views that will deepen polarization in U.S. political life and create ever angrier, ever more partisan divides.”

In a nutshell, it’s a reprise of what’s charged in the criminal indictments issued two weeks ago by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The 37-page indictment presents an eye-popping picture of a Russian effort to turn our open systems against us. It was an effort that started in the spring of 2014, according to the indictments, with the intent to disrupt our society, and that gained steam and shifted as the presidential primary campaigns got underway more than a year later.

The shame of it is that if any trial is held against the 13 men and women in Russia and three Russian entities at the core of this scheme is that it might have to be in absentia. Nothing in the indictments ties directly to the Russian government, but the indictments continually mention co-conspirators, unknown or unnamed to the grand jury. It beggars the imagination that the Kremlin didn’t know or didn’t fund this operation. The indictment says some of the participants posed as Americans, put up fake social media pages and created groups to attract Americans. But they also used stolen identities of real Americans to post to the fake Facebook and Twitter accounts. They opened PayPal accounts with stolen identities to buy social media ads. They were so brazen that they even sold ads to Americans who wanted to advertise on their fake sites.

At least two women came to America under false pretenses — we call that spying - to scope out the political scene, learning for instance that they should be focusing on significant “purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida” that reportedly we’re up for grabs — of the three only Florida went for Trump. The scheme included hiring “unwitting” Americans to help stage events in the months before election — among them a woman portraying Hillary Clinton, in prison garb and locked in a cage on a flatbed truck, as part of a series of reportedly sparsely attended “Trump flash mobs” one weekend in August 2016. “Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities,” the indictment states. People on both sides have attempted to use this to either tie or distance the Trump campaign from the Russians.

But while attention has been focused on Russian efforts to tilt the election toward Donald Trump and away from Hillary Clinton — efforts whose success can be argued but not settled — the indictment discloses how the effort got underway in 2014, and possibly earlier, with “a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” By 2016, many of the groups had “hundreds of thousands of online followers,” although it might be difficult to specify how many were real people and how many were bots. Besides Facebook, they also created “numerous Twitter accounts designed to appear” as if they were set up by Americans.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly hated Clinton, blaming her for inciting mass protests against him six years ago over rigged elections, when she was secretary of state, undercutting his authority. But before it was about Clinton it was about spreading dissension and hatred in America. The Russian effort, not surprisingly, savaged Clinton as at varying points it supported Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and even the Green Party’s Jill Stein, the Lexington physician.

And then it went right on sowing discord after the election by simultaneously organizing rallies in New York supporting Mr. Trump as well as “Trump is NOT my President.”

Get the picture? When we’re at war with each other, we’re playing into Russian hands.

By all means we can disagree and argue. But the best way to spit in Putin’s eye is to view each other as patriotic Americans and work together toward common solutions. To do otherwise is to let the Russians win.

Online: http://bit.ly/2t9YQdj

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal, Feb. 28

There’s an old joke that “Rhode Island ethics” is an oxymoron. The Rhode Island Ethics Commission, which is increasingly acting far more like a lapdog than a watchdog, seems determined to confirm the axiom.

On Tuesday, it flatly refused to investigate a fundraising deal that Gov. Gina Raimondo struck with Patrick Ward, then the head of the Providence City Democratic City Committee, after her administration hired him for $71,608 job as “chief of program development” in the Department of Human Services.

Bizarrely, the commission, whose members are appointed by the governor, decided Mr. Ward was not a “subordinate” of Ms. Raimondo and thus did not qualify under a prohibition against “finance transactions with subordinates.”

Give us a break. Mr. Ward — a blatantly political hire by the administration — is not the governor’s subordinate?

Come on. Can’t Rhode Island have a government that is a little more ethical than this?

Rhode Island’s insider dealings, after all, carry a steep price. Businesses are wary to come to a state that refuses to rigorously police political corruption. And citizens become increasingly apathetic when they see this kind of behavior. What’s the point of voting, they conclude, if it is all a game, where the ethics rules mean nothing? That, in turn, leaves the state legislature far more susceptible to control by special interests.

High ethical standards enforced by the Ethics Commission would be infinitely preferable if Rhode Island wants a vibrant future. But that’s not what we’re getting.

Previously, the commission — also bizarrely — ruled that Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s director of administration, Richard Licht, was not in a “senior policy-making” position and hence could be hustled into a lifetime judgeship, in defiance of the state’s revolving-door law. This, even though an occupant of such a powerful post could use it to advance himself to another job in the state’s government, something the law was intended to prevent.

In 2016, the commission shamefully adopted an incumbent protection scheme sought by legislative leaders, creating a 90-day “blackout period” during which complaints about incumbent politicians cannot be filed. The blackout takes effect just before elections — the very period when citizens are most apt to scrutinize those holding office.

The Raimondo case hardly seemed earth-shattering. Secretive schemes to get around legal campaign finance limits are legion in politics.

But the facts called for an investigation, at the very least. It seems doubtful Ms. Raimondo’s administration hired Mr. Ward after a nationwide search for the most qualified candidate. Then she struck a deal with him by which he would personally control money she funneled into the city committee’s coffers, while she controlled him as a state employee. (Later, he had to surrender the chairmanship after he posted a meme on social media comparing two Providence City Council members to characters in the movie “Godfather Part II.”)

It sets a terrible precedent to shrug off all such conduct, rather than deem it worthy of investigation, on the grounds that Mr. Ward is so far down the chain he is not the governor’s “subordinate.” That defies the literal truth as well as common sense. Are governors now free to enter into outside financial arrangements with administration employees who could be fired at the governor’s will if they don’t cooperate?

It is frightening to imagine the hijinks in state government that this dubious decision by the oxymoronic Rhode Island Ethics Commission could unleash.

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

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MAINE

The Portland Press Herald, March 1

The shooting rampage that took 17 lives in Parkland, Florida, last month gave the nation a harsh reminder of how vulnerable children can be, and has sparked a national conversation about school safety.

But the death of a single child in Stockton Springs this week should ring no less of an alarm bell for the people of Maine, warning us of the danger that thousands of children here are facing every day.

Police say Marissa Kennedy, age 10, died Sunday from injuries that she suffered from beatings at the hands of her mother and stepfather that had gone on every day for months.

But that isn’t the whole story. Signs that could have predicted her death appear to have been missed. Actions that could have prevented it were not taken. Until we figure out what happened, and why, other children’s lives are at risk.

So far, state officials have not demonstrated their commitment to getting to the bottom of this question. Someone in authority needs to step forward and explain what happened to Marissa and what Maine plans to do differently to protect children like her.

Sharon Carrillo, 33, and her husband, Julio Carrillo, 51, have been charged with depraved indifference murder and are each being held on $500,000 bail for one of the most awful instances of family violence ever seen in Maine. Police say that the parents have both admitted to beating the girl with a belt, a mop handle and their hands, and that when Marissa became unresponsive Saturday, they tried to make it look like she was injured in an accident.

Child advocates always say that preventing abuse and neglect is everyone’s job. We are often reminded, “If you see something, say something.”

But it looks as though, just as in Florida, people say they did report troubling events and nothing happened.

Former neighbors of the Carrillos in Bangor told reporters that police repeatedly came to the family’s home to check out reports of domestic abuse, although no one was ever arrested. Neighbors reported seeing abusive behavior and even hearing Marissa screaming. A Bangor truancy investigator was reportedly seen visiting the family, and neighbors say they called the state Department of Health and Human Services but Marissa and her two half-siblings were not removed from the home.

There are also questions about whether Marissa’s extended absence from her elementary school in neighboring Searsport was noticed, and what action, if any, school officials took to check on her well-being.

It’s important to know if these institutions failed Marissa, and what the people in them would do differently. The goal is not to deflect blame from Marissa’s actual tormentors or to shame public employees who may have made mistakes. But we need to better understand how this could have happened and what could be done to keep it from happening again.

The response of state, local and federal authorities in Florida to the Parkland massacre offers a model for Maine.

Both atrocities took the lives of children who were in no position to protect themselves. In both cases, prompt action by people in authority could have prevented the loss of life if they had seen and heeded the signs.

And both call for thorough investigations that look beyond the guilt of the perpetrators, which is not in doubt.

This is no time for the Maine officials to get defensive. If there is something that could prevent one of these tragedies from happening again, we need to know about it.

Online: http://bit.ly/2Fhy8nB

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

The (Portsmouth) Herald, March 1

For the first time in decades, it appears a bill to repeal the death penalty has enough votes to pass the New Hampshire House and Senate.

The Legislature last passed a death penalty repeal in 2000, when it was vetoed by Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said he’ll veto this death penalty repeal bill if it reaches his desk because, in his view, “There is no doubt that the most heinous crimes warrant the death penalty.”

Despite the governor’s veto threat, we urge legislators to debate death penalty repeal and then to vote their consciences. If we, as citizens, are going to authorize the state to kill in our names, we should regularly affirm that belief and declare why we think this action is right and just and moral.

The death penalty is a highly emotional topic, particularly for murder victims’ loved ones. The victims’ families, in whose name we pursue justice, do not speak with one voice. Some believe that putting a convicted murderer to death is justice, while others believe it is simply another act of violence, this time committed by the state, that brings neither emotional closure nor a sense that justice has been done.

New Hampshire has not executed anyone since 1939. In 2005, John Brooks of Londonderry was convicted of murder for hiring a hitman to kill a Derry handyman. The state pursued capital murder charges but Brooks, who is white and wealthy, was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2008, William Addison, a poor black man, was found guilty of capital murder for the 2006 killing of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs. Addison was sentenced to death and the New Hampshire Supreme Court rejected his appeal. He remains on death row pending further appeals of his case. The repeal bill currently before the Legislature is not retroactive and would not affect Addison’s sentence, according to one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren.

In the wake of the two capital murder cases, in 2009 the state created the Commission to Study the Death Penalty in New Hampshire. The 22-member commission reviewed whether the death penalty served as a deterrent to crime, was levied impartially, its cost, and whether alternative punishments might be equally effective. The committee’s final report found 12 members voting to keep the laws the way they are and 10 members voting for repeal. The members did not fall predictably along party lines or divide between law enforcement and victims of crime. Those in favor of repeal and those against it brought their own intensely personal analysis to the issue that did not appear overly influenced by their politics or profession.

Seacoast Media Group’s newspapers have consistently called for the repeal of the death penalty, arguing that the risk of human error is too high, that minorities and poor people are disproportionately sentenced to death, that it doesn’t help victims heal, has not been proven a deterrent and is wildly expensive for taxpayers, far more expensive than a prosecution and sentence of life without parole.

Judge Walter Murphy, who chaired the death penalty study commission, and voted with the minority, concluded: “There is no assurance that the death penalty does what its advocates claim is its purpose; nor is there any reason to believe it is necessary for public safety. The alternative, that is, life without the possibility of parole, offers the same protection without the attendant risks of mistakes and without the vast expense both monetary and otherwise.”

Hampton State Rep. Renny Cushing, whose father was murdered in town in 1988, is a sponsor of the bill currently before the Legislature and served on the death penalty commission. In an essay published in 2010, “Why I oppose the death penalty,” Cushing wrote: “I view the death penalty not as a criminal justice sanction, but as a human rights violation. I aspire to live in a society, in a world, where human life is cherished and the dignity of all is respected.”

We urge the House and Senate to give full and serious debate to this issue and when that debate is done, all members should vote their consciences. If the bill passes, Gov. Sununu will do what he thinks is right. While we obviously side with repeal, the important thing at this time is to have a full and fair debate so that the public understands just what the criminal justice system is doing in our names.

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

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VERMONT

Caledonian Record, Feb. 27

Last week the St. Johnsbury School Board discussed school security and armed teachers in the wake of the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The same conversation is happening (appropriately) at school board meetings nationwide. We imagine a comparable debate preceded the decision in Parkland, Florida, to employ a full-time armed School Resource Officer through the Broward County Sheriff’s Department.

Since 2009 that board paid Deputy Scot Peterson almost $100,000 a year to protect Parkland students. Unfortunately Peterson — a 30-year law enforcement veteran — cowered in fear when the bullets started flying in Parkland.

Peterson resigned in disgrace last week and will likely never recover from the shame of his inaction. But his case illustrates just how powerless we really are — despite proper planning and preventative measures — to stop crazy.

Online: http://bit.ly/2F6R9tF

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