- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers:

Gloucester Times (Mass.), June 1, 2015

Many of President Barack Obama’s most high-profile initiatives are under fire in the courts. An interesting analysis piece in The Washington Post’s political blog goes so far as to state that the president’s legacy is in jeopardy.

Author Amber Phillips catalogs the challenges facing the president.

Just last week, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the administration’s request to lift an injunction that is blocking implementation of President Obama’s executive order ending deportation of illegal immigrants. The appellate court had issued the injunction at the request of Texas and the 25 other states suing the administration over the executive order.

In denying the request, the appellate court made it clear it isn’t buying the Obama administration’s argument that refusing to deport the illegals is merely “prosecutorial discretion.”

“This decision is a victory for those committed to preserving the rule of law in America,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told The Wall Street Journal. “Telling illegal aliens that they are now lawfully present in this country, and awarding them valuable government benefits, is a drastic change in immigration policy. The president’s attempt to do this by himself, without a law passed by Congress and without any input from the states, is a remarkable violation of the U.S. Constitution.”

Phillips notes the court battle over immigration is unlikely to be resolved before Obama leaves office in January 2017.

Also under review by the Supreme Court is the Environmental Protection Agency’s crackdown on coal-fired power plants and whether it imposed undue costs on the plant operators. The crackdown is the result of Obama executive orders to fight climate change.

Other aspects of Obama’s legacy- such as elements of the Affordable Care Act -are also under court review. But the two noted above are interesting because both involve the president’s use of executive orders to bypass a recalcitrant Congress.

The use of executive orders to overcome congressional inaction is a constitutional crisis that has been building through several presidential administrations, both Republican and Democratic.

Presidents are action-oriented. They know they have eight years at most to enact an agenda and secure their place in the history books.

Congress, increasingly, is a place of inaction. Writing presidential initiatives into law means taking votes. And taking votes on often controversial matters means leaving a record that may place one’s re-election chances in jeopardy. Better to do nothing at all, from the point of view of a congressman or senator whose primary interest is getting re-elected.

So if Congress will not write the laws a president wants, well then, the president will just bypass the law altogether and issue some quasi-legal orders to the bureaucracy to do whatever it was he wanted done anyway.

That’s not how the country is supposed to work.

It is supposed to be difficult to pass new laws. The Founders made it so by design. And the fact is that the people are sharply divided along ideological lines. Liberals and conservatives today have fundamentally opposing views on the state of the nation and what its future course ought to be. With the nation so sharply fractured, gridlock is not necessarily a bad thing.

No American should want to live under a system in which one person rules by decree, which is what executive orders are- no more, no less.

We hope that in these cases and others, the judiciary delivers a rebuke to the executive branch- one that applies to Democratic and Republican administrations alike -and sets the nation on a course toward the restoration of the rule of law.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1FUa3eE

The Providence Journal (R.I.), June 2, 2015

It’s as if the world of soccer-playing nations awakened and said enough.

Enough of these dubious elections. Enough of the behind-the-scenes bargaining and envelope passing. Enough of this intolerance of dissent. Enough of the scrabbling away from the sunlight.

Enough of you, Sepp Blatter, and your accomplices. Your soiling of the world’s beautiful game is, in the end, too much for us to accept.

It’s been a stunning several days in international soccer. Mr. Blatter, widely reviled by the world’s soccer enthusiasts but feared by insiders, won re-election Friday as president of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), soccer’s governing body, under the darkest cloud that’s ever shadowed the sport- and that’s saying something.

This is the sport that, while captivating the world’s nations from Liechtenstein to Chile, has been beset by the bribery of referees, the payoffs of players and rigged votes to award the World Cup to dubious host countries like Qatar. Most would call it corruption, but for FIFA, it’s just business as usual. Yet finally, the stinking fish became too much for the world beyond Mr. Blatter’s enablers to stomach.

When law enforcement officials in Switzerland and the United States swept in last month with arrests, indictments and published charges against some of the sport’s top officials, they rocked FIFA and those who care deeply about the sport. And their timing, on the eve of Mr. Blatter’s presumed re-anointing, was exquisite.

Despite everything, it wasn’t enough to prevent Mr. Blatter from winning re-election Friday to a new four-year term, achieved only when his lone rival withdrew. But Mr. Blatter won without the support of the European nations or the United States, which feel less beholden to him than do the confederations of small nations in Africa and Asia.

The reasons for the debacle at FIFA are as plain as the charges spelled out in the statements from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Swiss police: tens of millions of dollars of bribes paid for media rights, money laundered through bogus organizations, fortunes amassed by FIFA executives. Soccer fans around the developed world are applauding U.S. authorities for finally intervening forcefully to arrest this long-running farce.

Mr. Blatter remains FIFA president, but he is seriously weakened. Some of his top enablers are suddenly out of commission. On the horizon are a series of court filings that will show how soccer’s governors have enriched themselves and corrupted the enterprise. It’s going to be ugly, but cleansing.

It’s as if a shaft of light has pierced a stormy sky, falling unexpectedly on a green field where men and women still play the world’s favorite sport.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1KLIe9D

The Concord Monitor (N.H), June 1, 2015

Rand Paul is no Ronald Reagan.

On Sept. 21, 1987, Reagan stood before the United Nations General Assembly and delivered these memorable words: “In our obsessions with the antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”

It was an odd, almost naive comment coming from the leader of the free world. To dream longingly of global unification by way of a common foe capable of wiping humans off the face of the Earth seemed at the time, and still seems, to be an awfully high price for harmony.

But Reagan’s comments revealed an almost childlike optimism about the potential of people to find common ground despite overwhelming obstacles. It was hard to look at a geopolitical map in the middle of the 1980s and see even a faint path to unity; the world had lived in fear of nuclear annihilation for decades. With his words about alien invasion, Reagan wanted, if just for a moment, to put the people of the Soviet Union and the United States on the same team. Silly? Perhaps, but sometimes even imagined solidarity can contribute to conflict resolution.

In contrast, common ground did not appear to be one of Paul’s priorities when he took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to rail against the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program Sunday: “People here in town think I’m making a huge mistake. Some of them, I think, secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me.”

While it’s unfair to read too much into one sentence spoken in the heat of legislative battle, it’s difficult not to question whether Paul has the diplomatic skills not only for the office of the presidency that he seeks but for any elected position at the local, state or federal level.

A lawmaker should stand firmly for what he or she believes, but that kind of absurd cynicism is a cheap prop unworthy of someone fortunate enough to have a direct line to the hearts and minds of millions. The fact that such a thought would even occur to Paul says more about him than it does his colleagues in the Senate.

American politics is a rough-and-tumble game. Nobody expects lawmakers to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” But comments such as Paul’s, even when delivered as hyperbole, serve only to further pollute an already toxic environment.

Nearly 30 years ago, the president of the United States asked the people of all nations to imagine a better version of themselves and their world. Paul should urge his supporters to do the same rather than inviting them to gather in the darkest corners of human nature.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1GiOV5d

The (Barre-Montpelier) Times-Argus (Vt.), June 5, 2015

The problem of economic inequality has become a concern for a majority of Americans, including people of both parties, according to a new New York Times/CBS News poll. According to the poll, a majority believes the government should do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor, though the parties differ on how that should be done.

New awareness of the economic divide undermines common Republican claims that those who talk about inequality are guilty of waging class warfare. Some Republicans describe concern about inequality as a form of envy, though others have embraced the issue, presenting themselves as champions of the little guy.

The rhetoric of inequality has become familiar, not just to an angry few, but to many all across the country. The Occupy Wall Street movement popularized the notion of the 1 percent, and Sen. Bernie Sanders spreads the message when he repeats those familiar numbers: The top 0.1 percent of Americans owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent; 99 percent of new income goes to the top 1 percent; one family possesses as much wealth as the bottom 130 million Americans.

It is medieval. Or, as Sanders says, it is oligarchic. And it is one reason for- or it is one effect of -the collapse of the center in American politics.

It helps to remember 2008. Barack Obama soared onto the political scene by rejecting the notion that there was a red America and a blue America. Instead, he saw a United States of America. He presented himself as a great conciliator who would rise above the bitter politics of the Bush years. America responded positively to his message of hope for an era of cooperation and bipartisanship.

Public dissatisfaction with Obama’s failure to create a new America is partly responsible for his declining popularity. The reality is that speeches from Obama were never going to achieve the transformation America hoped for. Instead of becoming a catalyst for reconciliation, he became a catalyst for bitter resistance from Republicans, who saw that in the wake of the failures of George W. Bush, their only chance for survival was to make Obama a failure.

The revival of the center did not founder for want of trying by Obama. His health care plan was a compromise that he sought to push through by engaging with Republicans. Instead, they used it as an occasion of unyielding political warfare.

The failure of the Democrats to succeed through centrist policies has bred impatience among Democrats who look at the growing income gap and the corruption of what Sanders calls “the billionaire class” and see the need for an unyielding politics of their own.

The collapse of the center explains why Sanders is catching on with crowds in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere. Sanders has never had much faith in the center. Earlier in his career, Republicans and Democrats were both subjected to his scathing critique. Now that he is running for president as a Democrat, he is using the new awareness of economic inequality to drag his party to the left.

Though concern about inequality is shared by Republicans and Democrats, their responses vary. Eighty percent of Democrats believe that a more active government should have a role in solving the problem. Only one-third of Republicans agree. The usual Republican response is that a reduction in inequality is best achieved by cutting taxes and otherwise removing government from the economy. Democrats respond that by weakening government the nation disarms the only force capable of challenging the vast wealth and power of the oligarchy.

As a politician Hillary Clinton bestrides the landscape like a colossus. She has embraced the populist rhetoric of Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren and has a record of concern for what might be called the people’s issues. And yet as former first lady and as someone connected to the Clinton Foundation, she is embedded in the world of wealth and privilege that today arouses suspicion. Long a centrist, she now runs for president in a world where the center is weak. How she negotiates these shifting currents will have a lot to do with determining the nation’s political future.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1KgAjmA

The Republican of Springfield (Mass.), June 2, 2015

Imagine trying to explain rap music to an opera buff.

One could begin with the violence. There is, after all, an awful lot of it. There are tales of death and destruction and threats of more to come. From there, one might move on to describe stories of revenge and retribution, of betrayals and dynastic feuds. And then there’s the preening, the showmanship, the frequent desire some show to glorify themselves.

Oh, the listener might respond, sounds kind of like some opera.

Six months ago, the Supreme Court heard a case involving a Pennsylvania man who was jailed because of postings he made on Facebook. While his estranged wife saw them as threats, he argued that they were rap lyrics. Her position prevailed in court and Anthony Elonis landed in jail. And then the case came before the Supreme Court, whose members are so much better versed in the finer points of opera than rap.

Nonetheless, the court, in an 8-1 decision, threw out Elonis’s conviction on Monday, ruling that someone cannot be jailed solely because a reasonable person would find his postings on social media- or elsewhere -threatening. Rather, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court, the mental state and intent of the poster must be considered.

The ruling didn’t draw a bright line- or even attempt to imagine one -but instead left lots of room for interpretation. This is as it had to be. When oral arguments were heard late last year, we said in this space that the case was an inherently difficult one, that justices would have to perform something of a balancing act in deciding which way to go. On Monday, their decision was exactly that.

The ruling, said Steven Shapiro, legal director of the ACLU, “properly recognizes that the law for centuries required the government to prove criminal intent before putting someone in jail.”

The decision didn’t please everyone. There were plenty of critics after the fact, and Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, with Justice Samuel Alito, while siding with the majority, criticizing the nebulousness of the decision’s reasoning.

Monday’s ruling, of course, will not be the final word on the matter. In ways, it is merely a starting point. But it’s a good one.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1MvBCxg

The (Norwich) Bulletin (Conn.), June 5, 2015

With all eyes turned toward Congress and the Patriot Act recently- and abstract arguments about privacy rights and the government’s domestic surveillance authority proliferating -the more concrete threat of successful terrorist attacks quietly grew.

This week, news broke that the Transportation Security Administration, which is responsible for screening passengers at U.S. airports, routinely fails to detect weapons and bombs- a development that can only have emboldened the fanatics whose mission is to do Americans harm.

The inspector general of the Homeland Security Department documented a series of stings in which an astonishing number of undercover agents- 67 of 70, or nearly 96 percent -passed TSA security checks while carrying fake explosives or weapons. In one instance, a fake bomb reportedly set off a magnetometer but was not found strapped to an agent’s back during the subsequent frisk, and the agent was admitted.

This performance is not only unacceptable, but also evidence of total failure and just cause for swift corrective action. It probably comes as a shock to travelers who assumed invasive screening procedures, while inconvenient for them, ultimately served the purpose of keeping them safe. It also should be a wake-up call to Homeland Security leadership and the Obama administration.

There is a political angle: Obama and congressional Republicans traded jabs over the stalled confirmation of Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger as TSA administrator. Former TSA chief John Pistole retired in December, and Obama nominated Neffenger in April. Both Obama and the GOP said the other had caused undue delays, while an acting director led the agency in the meantime.

A confirmed administrator would be helpful, but not a panacea. Deep root cause analysis, an independent audit and serious institutional self-reflection are needed. If it is an issue of ineffective equipment, replace or fix it, and put in place effective maintenance schedules. If a training deficiency is to blame, establish a more rigorous program and penalize those who fail to comply with standards. If TSA security personnel are unqualified, offer better compensation and hire only those with the requisite background to do the job right.

The government should spare no expense to improve the agency’s performance. There is no price too steep when it comes to Americans’ safety.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1Is5mwe

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