- Associated Press - Saturday, December 12, 2015

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

New Britain Herald (Conn.), Dec. 11, 2015

Gov. Dannel Malloy announced Thursday that he would use an executive order to ban gun sales to those on federal No-Fly Watch Lists for people suspected of ties to terrorism.

“If you cannot fly due to being on a government watch list, you should not be able to buy a firearm,” Malloy said. “This is common sense. The American people get it.”

He said he would sign the order as soon as his office had received federal approval to access the list.

His decision comes in the wake of three very recent shootings: the Paris attacks where 130 people died, shot with automatic rifles; the Colorado Springs shooting at a Planned Parenthood site where three people died after a gunman armed with an semi-automatic rifle invaded the clinic; and, the most recent, the San Bernadino terrorist raid where 14 innocents died. The couple in that incident used semi-automatic rifles.

Despite the carnage, many argue that the No-Fly Watch Lists, which contain “tens of thousands” of names, are inaccurate, lack due process and carry the names of innocents. (If this is the case- and apparently it is -we can’t help wondering why no one is calling for correction of an instrument that is used to prevent average citizens from getting on an airplane.)

Others point out that the ban would not have stopped the California attack as the shooters were not on any government terrorism watch list; nor was Robert Dear, the Colorado gunman who apparently has no ties to foreign terrorists but may have mental health issues.

Moreover, the National Rifle Association is calling Malloy’s proposal a constitutional issue, adding that mere suspicion shouldn’t take away the right to own a gun.

Finally, we can’t help wondering whether such a dramatic step requires not just the signature of the governor but the backing of the state Legislature. Three years ago, when a gunmen killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, right here in Connecticut, the state Legislature passed some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation. Shouldn’t they have a say in this decision?




The Rutland Herald (Vt.), Dec. 10, 2015

Deep fissures have always divided America, like tectonic plates grinding their hard edges against one another, propelled by powerful geological forces. Every once in a while there are worrisome tremors or even a destructive earthquake.

The principal fissure has been race, and the tremors felt in recent months suggest the tectonic plates are feeling new pressures. Slavery has been called America’s original sin, and the legacy of slavery has perpetuated injustices that make it hard for white people to see beyond their own protected and privileged position.

The nation has been rocked by a series of killings perpetrated by police with no seeming justification. One of the officers in Baltimore implicated in the killing of Freddie Gray in the back of a police wagon is now on trial, and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders this week toured the neighborhood where Gray had lived.

For many Americans, police are now facing persecution for trying to do their jobs in dangerous neighborhoods. For many others, the long history of oppression by police is now becoming visible because of cellphone videos. The plates are grinding together.

Vermonters live in one of the whitest states in the nation and so their experience in confronting the reality of racial conflict is limited by comparison with other states. And yet racism rears its head here. The presence of a few black drug dealers in Vermont has presented Vermonters with the same challenge that Americans face when confronted with Muslim terrorists. Bigotry toward neither Muslims nor blacks is warranted by the crimes of the few. If it were, we would be bigoted mostly against whites, who fill our jails.

Writers black and white have been laboring to convey the notion of white privilege so white people will understand it without becoming resentful or aggrieved. Consider the ordinary middle-class white family whose children go to college and then accept middle-class jobs at ordinary, stable companies. Those children have worked hard to earn their gains. Where is the privilege?

The fact that the family was middle-class to begin with is partly due to privilege. Neighborhoods where white people are able to buy houses have often been closed to blacks, which means that black families have not been able to amass the wealth that could establish them in the middle class or attend the good schools that would help them attain the middle class. Instead, they are relegated to neighborhoods from which prosperous businesses have fled and property values have eroded. They are subject to capricious arrest and imprisonment and poor schools put their children at a disadvantage.

Some talented black people work their way out of poverty, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, the writer who grew up on the mean streets of Baltimore, lost a friend to police violence among other indignities and losses, and continues to write eloquently about these tensions. But the tensions remain- partly because white people don’t want to believe that advantages for whites are built into the system and that the other side of the same coin is disadvantage for blacks.

The recent hysteria about Muslims following the massacre in San Bernardino grows out of a similar divide- the fearful attitude taken by many Americans toward those who could be described as “other.” When the shock of fear takes hold, it is easy to make scapegoats of people. And yet as one American Muslim spokeswoman said, millions of Muslims in America are descendants of Africans who were Muslim when the slave traders brought them here. They are not others. They are a part of the fabric of America as integral as Irish Catholics or Polish Jews.

Vermont has an important place in the history of the race question, participating in large numbers in the war to end slavery and then backing the party that saved the union and freed the slaves. It is important, though, to recognize that Vermonters occupy a privileged position in the scheme of things. It’s a tough place to earn a living, and Vermonters have to work hard to get ahead, but the struggle required to live in Vermont ought to make us appreciate all the more the struggles of those facing obstacles even more intractable than rocky soil or icy winters.




The Recorder (Mass.), Dec. 11, 2015

It’s easy to call out Donald Trump for his proposed banning of all Muslims from entering the United States- including American Muslims traveling abroad -for the unconstitutional racist demagogy that proposed prohibition represents.

Even though he attempted to amend his remarks by saying later that such a ban would buy our elected leaders time to figure out what’s going on, and also reversed his stance on preventing American Muslims from returning home, Trump’s position here is the opposite of the values this nation was built upon and that so many citizens hold dear.

But dismissing Trump’s rhetoric as naked prejudice, should not mask that his presidential campaign, complete with outrageous statements and bullying attitude, has tapped into an undercurrent of America. This undercurrent is fueled by combination of fear, anger, frustration and isolation- one that Trump, as a showman in knowing his audience, is able to manipulate.

Trump gives voice to anti-immigrant and religious scapegoating because of the times we live in. Even before the birth of our republic, similar anger and fears were directed at people seen as somehow different, because of their looks, language, religion, dress or other factors that make them seem “foreign”: from German immigrants in the mid-1700s to what we’re seeing with Mexican migrants and our reaction to Syrian asylum-seekers and so many other groups in between. The newcomers who look, talk or act differently easily become the “them” and are viewed as even more of a threat when jobs are scarce or when families find themselves already engulfed in economic turmoil and when their way of life is deteriorating.

“It is difficult to talk about Trump and his appeal to frightened white voters without either dismissing him as a crazy fascist or using deeply rooted- and forgotten -concepts in the American experience,” Susan Moir, the director of the Labor Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, says in published reports, explained. “He is a classic nativist, a direct descendant of the Know-Nothings, who feared Catholic immigrants in the 1840s.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that among groups strongly supporting Trump are white men with no college degree. And they often live in towns and cities that have seen all kinds of factories move or shrink their workforce and nothing coming in to replace them other than boarded-up buildings and vacant lots.

Trump the billionaire doesn’t have anything in common with men and women who have seen their American dream vanish. He sees, however, the anger and fear over their plight and dissatisfaction with government’s inability to do anything but tax and regulate and uses such feelings to his advantage. Trump appears sympathetic to those whose grasp on a job, home, a way of life is tenuous while offering them his vision of making America great again. His message resonates and continues to gain traction. Trump continues to lead the Republican pack- with 35 percent of voters polled in a new national CBS News/New York Times poll released Thursday. Those numbers reflect a 13-point jump since mid-October.

Trump becoming the Republican nominee or president remains an uphill climb. But if Trump does fade as a candidate, the anger and fears that gave rise to his candidacy aren’t going away any time soon. This is something that the next president and nation have to address.




The Valley News (N.H.), Dec. 9, 2015

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, announced last week that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, were giving a colossal $45 billion to charitable causes. What’s not to like?

To employ the emoticons of his social network, the initial media response was all hearts and thumbs-up. Along those lines, we find it remarkable that the couple, both barely into their 30s, have turned their minds to the kind of large-scale philanthropy normally associated with the later years. But perhaps that’s just another reflection of the pace of asset accumulation in our digital economy. In earlier eras, tycoons spent decades building railroads, burying cables beneath oceans and scouring the world for oil to make their fortunes. What would steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie- who contributed to the construction of nearly 1,700 public libraries in the U.S., including the handsome downtown Lebanon library -make of it?

Facebook, by contrast, seems fleeting, a social network that connects people with family, co-workers, lost childhood pals and old flames, at no cost but the price of being exposed to online advertising. In just over a decade, it made the Zuckerbergs so wealthy it would be hard for them to spend it all.

In no time at all, the Zuckerberg gift horse was being examined in the mouth. As generous as the pledge seemed, critics say it leaves the couple in control of their enormous wealth. Writing for Pro Publica and the New York Times Deal Book column, Jessie Eisineger said it was significant that the Zuckerbergs aren’t giving stock to a foundation, but are instead creating an L.L.C. It presumably will do good work, but can also make political donations and lobby for changes in laws, while avoiding transparency and regulatory requirements foundations face. “He amassed one of the greatest fortunes in the world- and is likely never to pay any taxes on it. Anytime a plutocrat makes a charitable donation, the public ought to be reminded that this is how the system works,” Eisineger writes.

Significantly, Robert Willens, said to be one of the country’s top corporate tax experts, told CBS News that “such charitable arrangements are becoming common among wealthy people.” Gabriel Zucman, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, raised this question: “If billionaires are free to choose how they contribute to society, why shouldn’t I? Why do I have to pay taxes?”

Mark Zuckerberg defended himself on Facebook, where, in keeping with his oversized empire, he has more than 43 million followers. He said he formed the L.L.C. to have more flexibility in charitable spending, and that he and his wife will pay capital gains taxes when their shares are sold by the L.L.C.

But isn’t it curious that the wealth disparity in the U.S. has grown so vast that even generosity inspires suspicion? An overhaul of the tax code is a topic for another day, but proposals to cut taxes on millionaires and billionaires being floated by some Republican presidential contenders should be seen for what they are- accelerated unfairness, with astronomical numbers attached. In the meantime, the Zuckerbergs will direct their vast wealth toward the public good.




The Boston Globe (Mass.), Dec. 11, 2015

Hillary Clinton takes political correctness too far when she refuses to characterize the fight against terrorism as a battle to defeat “radical Islam.” To use that term, she has argued, “sounds like we are declaring war against a religion.”

Such linguistic sensitivity may be well intentioned- especially given Donald Trump’s grotesque call to bar Muslims from entering the United States. But it does a disservice to the tens of millions of moderate, peaceful Muslims who abhor the extremism and violence of radical Islamists, and who want to highlight, not downplay, their rejection of the jihadists.

“If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism, we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies,” President Obama rightly stressed in his Oval Office address Sunday night. “That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. It’s a real problem that Muslims must confront without excuse.”

Many Muslims would enthusiastically agree. Among them is the newly formed Muslim Reform Movement, launched this month by a coalition of moderate Muslims from Canada, Europe, and the United States. In a public manifesto, the coalition put the stakes bluntly: “We are in a battle for the soul of Islam, and an Islamic renewal must defeat the ideology of Islamism.” It explicitly condemned violent jihad, embraced equal rights for women and religious minorities, and insisted on separation of mosque and state. “We are loyal to the nations in which we live,” the reform declaration stated. “We reject the idea of the Islamic state… . We oppose institutionalized sharia.”

To underscore their opposition to Wahhabism, the harsh and puritanical version of Islam promoted by Saudi Arabia, members of the reform coalition posted a copy of their manifesto, Martin Luther-like, to the door of the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., a mosque funded in part by the Saudi government.

Halfway around the globe, meanwhile, another organization of Muslim moderates is mounting a vigorous challenge to ISIS and jihadi extremism.

In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim group has embarked on an international effort to repudiate the jihadist teachings and ideology of the Islamic State. The group is Nahdlatul Ulama, or NU, a 90-year-old Sunni social organization with 50 million members and a reputation for progressive pluralism. It recently kicked off a new anti-extremist campaign, a multipronged ideological drive, as The New York Times reported, to be “carried out online, and in hotel conference rooms and convention centers from North America to Europe to Asia.”

Last month, NU released a 90-minute film that vigorously refutes ISIS and its Wahhabist-rooted fundamentalism. The grisly massacres celebrated in so many jihadist videos are denounced in this film as an appalling perversion of Islam that the Muslim world must not tolerate. NU is also training Arabic-speaking students, both male and female, to disseminate its antiradical values and challenge Islamist supremacism.

It is a great mistake to blame the evils committed by jihadi extremists on the Muslim religion. Radical Islam- not Islam itself -is the menace that must be defeated. Ultimately, that defeat can only be administered by Muslims passionately committed to moderation and tolerance. Those moderate Muslims need all the support we can give them as they battle for the soul of their faith.




Portland Press Herald (Maine), Dec. 12, 2015

Fear is a friend if you are in the gun business. In the wake of mass shootings in Colorado and California this month, gun shops have been busy running background checks for people rushing to arm themselves.

In Maine the number of background checks surged 26.5 percent higher in November over the same period a year ago. The sales are driven by fear, gun dealers say, but it’s not fear of out-of-control shooters- it’s fear of President Obama and an imagined gun confiscation campaign.

“They’ve been thinking about it anyway and they needed a little push,” said Fred Emerson of Allsport Performance in Hermon. “Then there’s a speech by Obama or something happening that will put them over the edge to do it.”

“Over the edge” is the right term. The rush to stockpile guns to prepare for a grab by the federal government is paranoid impulse fueled by misinformation from right-wing media. It creates a fear of a next-to-impossible event that obscures the very real danger that comes from guns falling into the hands of the wrong people. Often the biggest risks are faced by the gun owners themselves.

Take suicide. Studies have consistently found that gun owners are much more likely to kill themselves than those who don’t have guns. It’s easy to understand why. The impulse to commit suicide can be formed in an instant, and using a gun leaves no chance to reconsider. Half of the approximately 30,000 gun deaths every year are suicides.

Another risk is murder, not committed by a crazed mass murderer or a terrorist, but by the very law abiding people who are rushing to the gun stores. Study after study finds that where there are more guns, there is more homicide.

A 2013 study led by a Boston University School of Public Health researcher found that a 1 percent increase in gun ownership correlated with a roughly 0.9 percent rise in the firearm homicide rate at the state level. A gun in the house has the potential of making a domestic violence episode deadly and can turn a simple argument into a duel.

Add in the mayhem facilitated by stolen guns and shooting accidents, too-easy access to guns poses a greater threat to public safety than mass murderers and terrorists.

These are the kinds of things that gun owners should rightly be afraid of, but instead they are rushing to the gun shops, likely putting themselves and their families at greater risk to protect themselves from gun laws that would not prevent them from owning and buying most firearms.

Someone should tell them that Obama is not coming for their guns. If they are determined to be afraid, they should look in the mirror.




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