- Associated Press - Saturday, August 8, 2015

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

The Providence Journal (R.I.), Aug. 6, 2015

Last month, The New York Times incorrectly reported that two inspectors general in the Department of Justice were seeking a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s bizarre use of a private email server while she served as secretary of state.

In truth, the inspectors general were not seeking a criminal investigation, but a “security referral,” and Mrs. Clinton was not the personal target of the inquiry. The DOJ was looking at whether government information had been handled “improperly” through her email systems. Mrs. Clinton’s most fervent defenders seized on the Times’ sloppy reporting to argue that the email hullabaloo is much ado about nothing.

But that isn’t true. Indeed, there remain worrying questions about Mrs. Clinton’s decision to apparently shirk government guidelines and “go rogue” when it came to her email.

The first involves the matter of classified material. One of the reasons that public employees working with sensitive material are expected to use their government email is that - one hopes - the government has systems in place to prevent the theft of secret information; systems that would be unavailable to a person using a private email account. Mrs. Clinton, for her part, has assiduously denied ever sending or receiving such material on her private email account.

However, according to the two inspectors general, a review of a mere 40 emails out of a tranche of 30,000 that Secretary Clinton has turned over turned up four that included material deemed “secret.” The McClatchy News Service reported that those emails contained information from five separate intelligence agencies.

Granted, 40 is a small sample, but that is an astonishingly high rate of 10 percent containing secret material. Indeed, as a statement from an inspector general noted, there are “potentially hundreds” (thousands?) of classified emails on Clinton’s private server. And of course, even one email containing classified data is one too many - and represents a direct contradiction of Mrs. Clinton’s public statements. The chances seem high indeed that sophisticated hacking operations by enemies of the United States in China, North Korea, Iran or Russia, may have accessed secret U.S. government data through Mrs. Clinton’s server.

And then there’s the matter of the emails that Mrs. Clinton chose to permanently delete - nearly 32,000 of them. Mrs. Clinton said that these were “private, personal emails.” But the American people should not be put in a position where they have to simply trust a public official who evades accountability - particularly one who has demonstrated a propensity for being less than 100 percent forthright. And while Mrs. Clinton is publicly releasing her remaining, non-deleted emails in fits and starts, some gaps remain. No emails from May and June 2012 have been released, for example, a period that coincides with rising violence in Libya that ultimately culminated in the Benghazi terrorist attack.

It appears to us that a criminal inquiry may, in fact, be in order. David Petraeus, the former Central Intelligence Agency director and general, after all, was convicted of a misdemeanor for far less; he merely kept secret data in a drawer in his Virginia home. Mrs. Clinton’s misuse of her email has put something far more serious than her presidential campaign at risk; it also may have jeopardized our national security.




Portland Press Herald (Maine), Aug. 6, 2015

Maine should have played a key supporting role in Scott Jurek’s record-breaking run along the Appalachian Trail. Instead, the state came off as something of a villain.

Jurek, a world-renowned endurance athlete, covered the AT’s 2,185 miles in just 46 days, finishing with a celebration atop the 5,627-foot Baxter Peak, the highest point on Mount Katahdin and the northern terminus of the AT.

He was then issued three summonses for alleged violations of Baxter State Park rules.

That was an overreaction by park officials. But it accomplished their goal - shining a light on the rapidly increasing use of the park by AT “thru-hikers” and the inordinate amount of stress that it puts on the park’s resources.

With park officials and various AT groups now meeting to address those concerns, they should work toward the only acceptable solution: keeping Baxter State Park as part of the Appalachian Trail.

There is no reason the two cannot coexist, and no reason Maine can’t benefit from its connection with the world-famous AT.

The park’s heated response to Jurek’s run has been met with a lot of criticism, partially because it seemed to come out of nowhere, and was directed at someone whose trek, except for speed and a worldwide following, was not unlike the hundreds of others that end at Mount Katahdin each year.

Sure, Jurek celebrated at the peak with a bottle of champagne, in violation of the letter of Baxter’s laws.

But a hike to the top of Katahdin in late summer or early fall, when thru-hikers arrive en masse, will provide the same scene, played out with cans of beer, bottles of liquor and cigars.

The celebrations are joyous but brief, and usually not at all disruptive. More often than not, staff members look the other way, as they should. It’s another world on top of the mountain. The rules should bend a little.

In Jurek’s case, though, they were inflexible to the point of absurdity (spilled champagne, for example, led to a littering citation).

In addition, Baxter officials overstated his violations and gave an inaccurate, overdramatic account of what happened the day he summited the mountain.

That made Maine look less than inviting. Baxter and Katahdin should be a draw. Now, many out-of-staters think they are run by killjoys.

But the eruption over Jurek’s run had much less to do with him and more to do with a growing schism between Baxter officials and the overseers of the Appalachian Trail.

The conflict between the park and trail, each with its own culture and goals, had been building for a few years.

Last year, more than 2,000 long-distance hikers registered at Baxter State Park, up from just 359 in 1991 and about 1,000 in 2004. About 800 hikers finished the entire AT in 2014, up from 472 just six years before.

Those numbers are expected to continue to rise, a trend that is OK with the groups and clubs that maintain the AT, but not with the caretakers of Baxter State Park.

That conflict was laid out in a letter last year from Jensen Bissell, the park’s director, to the executive director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

AT hikers, Bissell says, represent just 3 percent of park users, but require a lot of oversight. More staff and additional infrastructure are needed to support them, he wrote, and the park is not willing to pay for them.

That’s not nearly enough to justify pulling Baxter from the AT, as Bissell has threatened. But these are legitimate concerns, and after the furor over the Jurek run calms down, they should be addressed.

However, the goal must be to keep the park and the trail as partners, and Mount Katahdin as the last, celebratory stop on one of the world’s most famous hikes.




The telegraph of Nashua (N.H.), Aug. 5, 2015

The NFL commissioner’s decision to uphold the four-game suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is so flawed that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Start with the fact that the original suspension was based on a report that said it was “more probable than not” that the Patriots manipulated the air pressure in the footballs that were used in January’s AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.

The same report found that Brady was “at least generally aware” that Patriots employees had let some air out of the footballs.

More probable than not? At least generally aware? Those are the standards upon which the NFL is seeking to ruin the reputation of one of its marquee players?

The truth is the NFL has not a stitch of proof that Brady or the Patriots did anything wrong.

But that didn’t stop Commissioner Roger Goodell from suspending Brady because the player refused to turn over his cellphone to league investigators.

Goodell made much of the fact - and this is the NFL, so that word has to be loosely interpreted - that Brady supposedly ordered his cellphone destroyed just prior to meeting with the league’s investigators. According to Goodell’s report, that was proof that Brady “sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the underlying scheme to alter the footballs.”

It may be that, but where’s the proof?

As Patriots owner Robert Kraft said the day after the NFL came out with the “Brady destroys phone” narrative: Goodell “intentionally implied nefarious behavior and minimized the acknowledgement that Tom provided the history of every number he texted during that relevant time frame. We had already provided the league with every cell phone of every non-NFLPA employee that they requested, including head coach Bill Belichick.”

The NFL’s game plan was to get people to focus on the phone and obscure the fact that the league - still - has no proof of wrongdoing.

Brady appealed the suspension and - conveniently for the league - the appeal was heard by Goodell himself, who was too much of a coward to allow an independent authority to consider the case.

As Brady’s agent, Don Yee, said: “The appeal process was a sham, resulting in the commissioner rubber-stamping his own decision.”

If you’re looking for the definition of a kangaroo court, the NFL’s handling of this matter fits the bill.

Kraft’s contention that the NFL was out to get Brady is at least as plausible - given the lack of proof - as the notion that Brady and the Patriots cheated.




Hartford Courant (Conn.), Aug. 6, 2015

Federally licensed gun dealers are supposed to wait for the results of a background check before selling a firearm. But under a porous and pointless provision of federal law, if the background check takes more than 72 hours, the dealer can go ahead and sell the gun without it.

What’s wrong with that, according to FBI research, is that when a background check takes more than three days, it is usually because the potential buyer has a complicated criminal or mental health history. In short, exactly the kind of person who should not be able to acquire a gun. According to news reports, Dylann Roof, arrested for killing nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina church in June, had acquired a .45-caliber pistol after a three-day wait, though it is not clear if an arrest for illegal drug use had been entered on his record.

It’s very difficult to make even the simplest and most sensible changes to federal gun laws, as the nation saw after the horrific 2012 Newtown school shootings, when Congress failed to enact universal background checks despite broad public support. This month, 13 members of the U.S. Senate, including Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, took a different tack and asked gun retailers to close the 72-hour background check loophole voluntarily.

The solons signed a letter to three gun retailers, Cabela’s, EZ Pawn and Bass Pro Shops, asking them to wait for the results of a background check before selling a gun, and urging shoppers to avoid the stores that don’t comply with the request. While there is a slight irony in the fact that Connecticut has given financial assistance to Cabela’s and Bass Pro to open stores here - a questionable economic development strategy - the lawmakers are on the right track.

There is no good reason that a retailer - for that matter any gun seller, though that’s another loophole - should not wait until a potential purchaser has cleared a background check before transferring a firearm. What’s the rush? By not waiting, guns get into the wrong hands. The FBI reports that in the last five years, failing to wait for a completed background check “has led gun retailers to proceed with 15,729 firearm sales to ‘prohibited people’ - individuals who were deemed ineligible to purchase a firearm once their background checks were completed,” the senators wrote in their letter to the retailers.

That is crazy. The point of a background check is to determine if a potential buyer’s background raises the risk that he won’t use the gun responsibly. There is a procedure to retrieve a purchased gun if a background check later comes back negative, but good luck with that if the gun has already been used in a holdup or a homicide.

If gun retailers have questions about the full background check process, they need only check with the nation’s largest gun retailer, Wal-Mart, which has required a completed background check to approve a sale since 2002.

Fortunately, the failure to wait for a background check is not an issue in Connecticut. Connecticut is one of 10 states with so-called “permit-to-purchase” laws. This means a buyer needs a credential, such as a pistol or long-gun permit, before he or she can buy guns or ammunition, and getting that permit includes a background check. In addition, there is an instant background check at the time of purchase.

In a study recently released in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of California at Berkeley found that Connecticut’s “permit-to-purchase” law, passed in 1994, reduced gun homicides by an estimated 40 percent between 1996 and 2005, saving nearly 300 lives.

Think what that could do across the country.




The Rutland Herald (Vt.), Aug. 8, 2015

Travelers in the Midwest are often astonished at the sight of train after train lined up with hopper after hopper of coal. Vermonters are not generally confronted with the massive scale of America’s industrial infrastructure and the energy required to keep it going. Much of that energy, especially for the generation of electricity, comes from America’s abundant coal deposits.

And yet the coal industry in America is reeling. According to a report in The New York Times, the fourth-largest coal company declared bankruptcy earlier this week. Other large companies filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and the price of the stock for one of the largest remaining companies, Peabody Energy, has fallen from $16 a share to 99 cents.

One of the main reasons is that coal prices have fallen about 70 percent in the last four years. Coal is not worth enough to make mining it a winning proposition. One consequence is that the number of coal miners has fallen about 10 percent this year; there are now only about 80,000.

The main reason for the falling prices is the abundance of natural gas, which is the result of the fracking revolution. Natural gas is cheaper and produces about half the carbon emissions that coal does.

Politicians from coal country, such as Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, blame the problems of the coal industry on President Barack Obama’s “war on coal.” But as the Times report suggests, it is the working of the capitalist economy that is doing in the coal industry. Natural gas is more plentiful and cheaper than coal, and consumers are making the decision you would expect them to make.

Also, the reality of climate change is affecting the marketplace, as it should. It turns out there are more than twice the number of workers in the burgeoning solar energy industry than there are coal miners.

A certain nostalgia about our industrial past clouds our vision of the present and future. We remember the day when our great industrial cities were steel makers for the world, and vast armies of workers filled factories, smelters, mills and coal mines. Old industry probably reached its zenith in the 1950s, when unions were strong and factory and mining jobs provided a middle-class income for millions of Americans.

But what has mining done for West Virginia? Coal mining is an exploitative, extractive industry that has left West Virginia and Kentucky among the poorest states. Some workers have well-paying jobs, but their number is dwindling. The industry, meanwhile, has invented new methods of environmental despoliation. Mountaintop removal is a travesty that never would have happened if the political will had existed to stop it.

In fact, a new energy era is dawning. Vermont is a small corner of the nation, but it is pioneering ways to produce and consume energy that do not depend on massive central power plants fueled by coal or natural gas. We can’t afford to continue that model of energy production. The coal that exists in the mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky is best left where it is, unburned. If we burn it, we burn up the future. The same goes for the oil beneath the Arctic Ocean.

There is economic dislocation and poverty in coal country as people figure out what comes after the demise of a dying industry. These changes occur in a capitalist nation. Rust belt cities - Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, Buffalo - have had to reinvent themselves. The fate of 80,000 coal miners must not hold American energy policy hostage. (About that many workers in journalism and publishing lost their jobs during the Great Recession. America survives.)

Obama’s new regulations on power plants and carbon emissions will put further pressure on the coal industry, but the real significance of those regulations is that the true cost of coal is being taken into account. The coal industry is no longer being allowed to dump its pollutants into the atmosphere for free. It’s about time.




The Boston Globe (Mass.), Aug. 3, 2015

Congress created mandatory nationwide food labels, and it is Congress that has a responsibility to ensure they don’t stray from their original purpose of providing valid health and safety information to consumers. With that goal in mind, the Senate should approve controversial legislation that would prevent states from requiring food makers to add misleading and superfluous data to labels.

The legislation comes as a response to states like Vermont and Maine that have required food makers to disclose whether ingredients come from genetically modified food. “Genetically modified” is a slippery term - virtually all crops have been genetically modified by humans over the last 10,000 years - but has become a fashionable concern among some consumers.

Unlike calorie counts or allergen warnings, though, whether or not a food has come from a genetically modified source has no relationship to its health or safety. States that have mandated its inclusion next to legitimate health information are piggybacking on the credibility of food labels to imply that genetically modified foods are also a health or nutrition factor - which study after study has shown is not the case.

Other critics of genetically modified foods admit they’re safe to eat, but fall back on a political argument to justify the mandatory labeling laws. They say it’s really about the economics, and that consumers want to know whether their food comes from the big corporations that develop and profit from genetically modified seeds.

But that’s an even more pernicious reason to mandate labeling, one that would inappropriately redefine the purpose of food-labeling laws. Just because some consumers may have a political or superstitious interest in some bit of information about food has never meant that it would get the official sanction that comes with inclusion in labeling law. For instance, the government doesn’t require produce companies to say whether their berries were picked by Democrats or Republicans, or whether they were packaged by a Capricorn. Yes, it’s just information, and companies can provide it voluntarily if they wish, but requiring it would open a Pandora’s box.

States that have tried to add content about genetically modified ingredients to food labels are undermining the credibility of the labeling system, which consumers will ignore if they lose trust that it’s based on science. Indeed, the labeling legislation is the rare issue where the scientific community has aligned with Republicans, who’ve led the effort to preempt the state laws. The House has passed its version of the legislation to safeguard the integrity of food labeling laws, and the Senate should follow suit. Republicans have a great chance to disprove critics who’ve long accused them of anti-scientific bias, and they should take it.




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