- Associated Press - Friday, January 13, 2017

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

The Hartford Courant (Conn.), Jan. 12, 2017

The allegations that the government of Russia actively sought to interfere with the 2016 presidential election are chilling and if true represent a significant threat to the security of the nation and to the very principles of democracy. It is incumbent on the U.S. Congress to uncover the truth.

We call on Congress to pass legislation currently in the U.S. House of Representatives that would form an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the extent of interference in the election.

Connecticut’s representatives in the House have all signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, and both of our U.S. senators are co-sponsoring the Senate version. Good for them.

The bill, first introduced in December, would create a commission that would have broad subpoena power, $3 million and 18 months to complete its investigation and submit a full report. It would be composed of regular citizens, not members of the Senate or House, although legislative leaders would appoint the members.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said a full select committee is unnecessary and that the Senate Intelligence Committee could investigate. But it seems reasonable to give the job to people who aren’t interested in re-election and are relatively immune to political pressure. A bipartisan commission is the right way to go.

Complicating any such investigation is the issue of whether President-elect Donald Trump or his campaign officials had any knowledge of Russian interference in the election.

U.S. intelligence agencies recently briefed President Obama and Trump about a 35-page “dossier,” paid for by political opponents of Trump, that claimed representatives of the Trump campaign met with Russian officials during the campaign. It also claimed that Russia had collected potentially compromising information about Trump. Neither the F.B.I. nor media outlets that had seen the dossier have been able to confirm any of the information it contained, they said.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Trump dismissed the report as “fake news,” ”phony stuff” and “crap,” while saying he believed Russian President Vladimir V. Putin had ordered the hacking of Democrats’ computers before the election.

Even though the material in the dossier is unconfirmed, it remains that officials saw enough merit in it to bring it to the attention of both President Obama and President-elect Trump. Congress would be derelict if it didn’t pursue an independent investigation into its veracity, as well as into the allegations in the U.S. intelligence report.

If officials from Trump’s campaign did indeed meet secretly with Russians and discuss the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, it could represent a treacherous betrayal of the most basic democratic principles.

Better to fully investigate, quickly and thoroughly, than to let questions and doubts fester.

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Online:

http://cour.at/2j5DLb4

The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Jan. 12, 2017

By any measure, L.L. Bean is one of Maine’s top businesses, a major employer that still manufactures its iconic Bean Boot here in the state and gives generously to an array of local nonprofits. It also has on its 10-member board of directors Linda Bean, granddaughter of the company’s founder and a high-profile supporter of conservative causes, including the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

To the people behind the Grab Your Wallet campaign, Linda Bean’s personal political views outweigh any amount of good the company does. We hope anyone considering Grab Your Wallet’s call for a boycott of L.L. Bean comes to a different conclusion.

We are no fan of Linda Bean, whose conservative views come with more than a little hypocrisy and hysteria.

After using public assistance as a single mother before she received her family inheritance, Bean has railed against public assistance. She is staunchly opposed to gay rights and abortion rights. In an open letter released during the 2012 presidential campaign, she made bizarre claims about Barack Obama taking away farmers’ land rights, calling the president “HITLERIAN” and saying he was “closing in very fast to eliminate totally our liberty rights and heritage.”

She has also donated heavily to conservative causes, giving $30,000 to Maine political action committees this year, including one controlled by Gov. Paul LePage. It was a contribution of $60,000, according to the Federal Election Commission, to her own PAC- Making America Great Again LLC -that drew the attention of the Grab Your Wallet campaign.

The campaign, started in October in response to lewd comments Trump made on tape while talking to a reporter from Access Hollywood, has taken aim at retailers that sell Trump products or whose owners support the president-elect. More than 70 companies are now on the boycott list, which is backed by a heavy social media presence.

But just who are they hurting by calling for a boycott?

It certainly isn’t Trump, who has no interest in L.L. Bean whatsoever. Nor is it Linda Bean, who has her inheritance as well as a growing business of her own that is not subject to Grab Your Wallet’s boycott call. She’s held her abhorrent views for decades now, and it is unlikely that pressure from a liberal group will cause her any shame or trepidation.

No, if the boycott has any effect on the company’s bottom line- doubtful as it might be for a company with $1.6 billion in annual sales -it’ll rest more heavily on the remaining nine members of the board, the over 50 family members who have a stake in the business, and the roughly 5,000 company employees- numbers that by themselves show the difficulty of defining any company by one person’s personal views.

It may also have an effect on the company’s charitable giving- $2.1 million in 2016, according to the company, spread among more than 80 organizations, including the Maine Island Trail Association, the Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

L.L. Bean is a good corporate citizen, one that treats its employers and community with respect, and supports U.S. manufacturing. So by trying to punish one person who supports so many of the wrong things, a boycott would only hurt many others who are doing things the right way.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2iMjnLf

Telegram & Gazette (Mass.), Jan. 11, 2017

Dudley officials have not done the town any favors through several rounds of contentious dealings over the Islamic cemetery proposal that has put the community in such a negative light across the country.

The yearlong dispute has included packed hearings and high emotions of the wrong kind aimed at a religious institution trying to site a cemetery for its congregants. The fact that it’s an Islamic Cemetery has put Dudley in a spotlight. The fight ended up in land court; it brought to the town U.S. Justice Department investigators for interviews of 24 town officials, employees and consultants, as well as some residents and members of the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester, over potential civil rights violations. Then just before Christmas, news came of a settlement agreement to- of all things -observe the appropriate approval process.

Had town officials done just that from the beginning they wouldn’t have gotten into this pickle of their own making.

The “process”- as contentious as it was through the spring -was derailed entirely in June just as the Zoning Board of Appeals appeared to be ready to consider land use restrictions for issuing a special permit. That’s when the town counsel swooped in with a two-page memorandum that provided the board with an excuse to deny the permit. It said the Society lacked the “proper legal standing” to seek a special permit because the town MIGHT exercise a dubious, in our view and that of many others, right of first refusal to buy the property out from under the Society’s purchase and sales agreement.

“The permit is not being denied; what’s being denied is their ability to seek one,” Board Member John Glynn said at the time. “It’s being denied because they do not have standing, and I want that in the record.”

So noted. But as we also noted in this space last June, Dudley was barreling toward a legal cliff. Its argument about “proper legal standing” did not apply to a nonprofit religious use; and it was violating both state and federal protections religious institutions have from inappropriate local regulation. Adding to this was that the Society at every turn offered to comply with town concerns- agreeing to use caskets and vaults rather than just “green burials,” reducing the cemetery’s footprint to roughly 10 percent of the 55 acres it was buying, and even keeping away from proceedings its attorney because town officials deemed him a flashpoint. A final absurdity is that the town was considering a Town Meeting vote to pay at least $287,000 to buy the vacant farmland when about two years before it had said it didn’t have $21,000 to contribute to preserving 21 acres of nearby farmland.

The size of the hole that Dudley had dug for itself was reflected in an advisory it and the Society requested from the state attorney general’s office. Every page of the five-page document contains words or citations shooting down the town’s position under both state Dover Amendment protections and federal protections for religious uses against inappropriate local regulation. It would appear this was the final straw leading to the settlement.

And of course, it all blew up over the weekend as Jonathan Ruda, chairman of selectmen, declared the deal was off because of a newspaper interview in which the Society’s lawyer basically asserted the Society’s constitutional and legal right to the cemetery. And then, voila, just as suddenly it seems to be back on track.

The deal basically comes down to the appropriate town boards following the appropriate processes, taking into account the Society’s protections under the Dover Amendment, with the ZBA approving a permit “subject to mutually-agreeable conditions.” The Health Board and Conservation Commission will also do their regular jobs following the normal process and appropriate precedents for the cemetery.

What Dudley’s leadership has put the town through was unnecessary. Instead of quelling concerns their actions hurt the town’s image.

A reach-out and conciliation is in order, setting an example for other communities. And now that negotiations are over and both sides have signed it, the fully executed agreement is a public document that should be released immediately. If nothing else, it would serve as a lesson for other communities that may find themselves in a similar position.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2j5DyVp

The Providence Journal (R.I.), Jan. 8, 2017

The brand of authoritarianism practiced by late President Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, continues to inflict enormous suffering on the people of Venezuela.

This country, with some of the world’s largest oil reserves, was once one of the economic bright spots of Latin America. It did have problems- protracted poverty, corruption and periodic government upheaval. But the solutions put forward by Chavez after his election in 1998 have proved to be nothing short of disastrous.

His agenda flatly rejected capitalism and the free markets- and promoted redistribution of resources and government control of the economy. He went after the press. In the name of the people, Chavez nationalized the Banco de Venezuela, telephone and electrical utilities. He reduced foreign ownership, redistributed land, controlled food prices, and took temporary control of rice and coffee plants. He used the nation’s oil revenues to break free from economic interactions with Western democracies.

However good these ideas may have sounded to theorists, they battered the economy and destroyed freedom. People are far more likely to work hard and build up an economy when they keep the fruits of their labor. Similarly, businesses do not invest in places where their return on investment will be poor or nonexistent.

After Chavez’s death, Maduro, a former union leader and bus driver, followed in his destructive ways. He too blamed capitalism for his country’s problems.

The results have been frightening and heartbreaking. Housing shortages and poverty have grown. The country’s foreign debt is out of control. And, as The New York Times reported on Dec. 28, violence is now endemic. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory estimated that 27,875 killings occurred last year, pushing the homicide rate up from 82 per 100,000 residents in 2015 to a shocking 90 per 100,000. The murder rate has surpassed that of Honduras, and now rivals El Salvador’s.

On Dec. 11, Maduro threw gasoline on the fire. He decided the 100-bolivar bill- the country’s most used bill -would be removed within 72 hours. The roughly 6 billion notes in legal circulation, worth only 3 cents apiece outside of government stores because of Venezuela’s mind-boggling inflationary rate (reportedly around 500 percent), would have been rendered officially worthless.

Meanwhile, the president closed the border with neighboring countries, including Colombia, over smuggling that undermined his control of the economy. His people are desperate to obtain food and medicine.

Large numbers of people may have had enough. With one-third of the population having no bank accounts and using only cash, the sudden removal of the 100-bolivar bill was seen as life-threatening. Riots erupted in several cities, leading the Venezuelan president to announce that the bill would be accepted until the new year. It is being replaced by larger denomination notes. He also reopened the border.

Using a tattered playbook, Maduro has continued to blame the United States for the political problems and financial woes that he and Chavez, in truth, had orchestrated.

The propaganda seems to have little impact, though. A survey released last month by pollster Alfredo Keller found that only 1 percent of Venezuelans blame the United States for the country’s problems, while 76 percent cite Messrs. Chavez and Maduro. The latter’s support is down to 19 percent.

The sad demise of this country, which once had a rising middle class and a bright future, tells a grim tale of the damage that excessive demagoguery and bad government policies can do. Let us hope the suffering people of Venezuela will find their way out- through free speech, fair elections and opportunities to succeed.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2jcLtSS

The Nashua Telegraph (N.H.), Jan. 11, 2017

Fiscal irresponsibility seems to remain a bipartisan affair.

Members of a Republican-led Congress have pitched a budget resolution this month to add $9.7 trillion of new debt over the next 10 years, a move that would increase the total shortfall to $29 trillion.

The resolution was justified as a step to replace the Affordable Care Act- Obamacare -and legislators needed to use a reconciliation process to pass new laws to repeal President Obama’s signature measure. Under such a process, The Washington Examiner reports legislation called for under a budget resolution can be passed in the U.S. Senate with a simple majority vote to avoid a filibuster.

The resolution does exempt future GOP-sponsored legislation to replace Obamacare from budget rules designed to impose fiscal discipline, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. This means the resolution would permit possible tax/revenue cutbacks from an ACA repeal to possibly loop into its replacement program.

For a party that campaigned hard on slashing the federal debt, it would be a slap in the face to fiscal conservatives who are seeking reasonable solutions to balance the budget.

As Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said last week: “The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.”

The libertarian-leaning senator was quick to retort some of the GOP responses Monday, when they claimed the resolution is “not a budget” and merely a vehicle to repeal Obamacare.

“We have special rules when you pass the budget that we may be able to repeal Obamacare, and I’m all for that,” Paul continued. “But why should we vote on a budget that doesn’t represent our conservative view? Why would we vote on a budget that adds $9.7 trillion to the debt?”

Jim Rubens, a New Hampshire businessman, former state senator and former New Hampshire Republican Party platform committee chairman, called the budget resolution “an early indicator of collapsing GOP support for fiscal restraint” in a release.

Rubens brings his party to task for its evaporating budgetary restraint during the George W. Bush administration, saying fiscal conservatives have been locked in a windowless political basement.

“The only solution will be to bypass our debt-addicted Congress with a constitutional balanced budget amendment proposed under the Article V state-led process,” Rubens concluded. “Thirty-four states are needed to launch; 28, including New Hampshire, are already onboard- six states to go.”

A constitutional balanced budget amendment has long been a conservative dream, although many economists reject the proposal as unsound policy.

Opponents say implementing a balanced budget amendment disrupts safety net programs and purchasing power at state and local levels. Such an amendment could exacerbate recessions, as well.

Nevertheless, with Republicans seeking to add trillions more in debt over the next decade, a balanced budget amendment should at least be subject to a fair and bipartisan review to curb the reckless spending in Washington.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2jJyYzl

The Rutland Herald (Vt.), Jan. 11, 2017

Sen. Patrick Leahy is taking a tough view toward the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Hearings are underway before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Leahy is one of several Democrats who have pledged to stand up for the political independence of the Justice Department and for the civil rights of all Americans.

It was not immediately clear that the Democrats would mount the kind of opposition that could persuade dissident Republicans to oppose Sessions’ confirmation. Leahy has pointed out that when Sessions came before a Republican controlled Judiciary Committee for confirmation as a federal judge in 1986, the committee rejected him. Sen. Ted Kennedy called Sessions a “throwback to a shameful era” and a “disgrace to the Justice Department.” Even Republicans on the committee turned against Sessions because of racist remarks in his past.

Now Trump has asked Sessions to lead the Justice Department. Leahy has not said he would vote against Sessions, but he has listed the many instances when Sessions has opposed measures supported by Leahy that would have protected the rights of women, gays and lesbians, and racial minorities. These included a hate-crimes bill sponsored by Leahy, as well as the Violence Against Women Act and a resolution rejecting the targeting of religions groups for immigration restrictions.

These are political differences showing Sessions’ unwillingness to use federal law to protect the rights of people targeted by violence or bias. If Sessions is a “throwback,” as Kennedy said, it is to a time when the South sought to perpetuate racial oppression on the grounds that civil rights legislation violated states’ rights.

The latest threats to civil rights come in the form of voter suppression efforts that have been encouraged by a Supreme Court ruling dismantling federal civil rights legislation. Leahy ought to make sure he puts Sessions on the record with regard to voter ID laws and state efforts to prevent African- Americans from voting.

Sessions can say anything. But what he says matters. On Tuesday he told the committee that the law does not permit waterboarding, a form of torture that President-elect Donald Trump has said he would bring back. It will be harder for Trump to do so if his attorney general has already said it would be illegal.

Sessions has said he would not be a rubber stamp for Trump. But what else could he say? The danger is that Sessions would ransack the Justice Department, sweeping out any career lawyers suspected of objectionable political views. The administration of justice is meant to be above politics. There will always be differences of emphasis- whether to stress civil rights, antitrust, white collar crime or other areas. Leahy ought to determine the degree to which Sessions means to declare war on the Obama administration’s necessary and overdue efforts to redress bias in law enforcement and the courts, as in Ferguson, Missouri.

Trump and the Republican Senate are using the schedule to rush Cabinet appointments through the confirmation process, but Leahy should not be afraid to stand up and say no. The senators need information about the nominees, especially those with complicated financial and ethical entanglements that call into question their willingness to serve the public good first.

The public may be willing to overlook Sessions’ racist past (he denigrated a white lawyer who defended a black client as a disgrace to his race) on the grounds that, like the nation, he has grown and changed over the past 30 years. But it’s questionable how much the nation has grown and changed, given recent backsliding toward voter restrictions and the persistence of racial oppression. And the nation will not grow if the leading law enforcement official in the nation nurtures, secretly or not, retrograde attitudes toward race.

The Senate must not be rushed into confirmation of nominees who have not made clear how they mean to resolve their ethical conflicts. And Leahy, too, should refuse to be sweet-talked or intimidated into voting for an attorney general who means to reverse the gains of hard-won civil rights battles and turn back the clock of history.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2j5Kz8P

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