- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

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

The Hartford Courant (Conn.), Dec. 24, 2015

Tolerance for a wide spectrum of speech and thought is a hallmark of a free society. Unpopular or bizarre ideas should have the chance to compete in the marketplace of ideas. But there are limits.

James Tracy has crossed the line.

Mr. Tracy is the Florida Atlantic University communications professor who gained notoriety three years ago when he claimed on his blog that the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that took 26 lives was a hoax, an event staged with actors by the Obama administration to promote gun control. The thousands of Connecticut residents with direct knowledge of the killings found the view ignorant, hurtful or too nutty to be taken seriously.

At the time, university officials reprimanded Mr. Tracy for failing to make it clear that his views didn’t represent those of the university. But they determined he couldn’t be fired for views he expressed on his private blog. That took a certain integrity because, as a school administrator told a Florida reporter, a number of prospective students withdrew their applications to Florida Atlantic University and at least one donor withdrew his support.

Since then, Mr. Tracy has claimed that almost every mass shooting in the United States, from Washington, D.C., to Charleston to San Bernardino, has been a hoax. School officials, like almost everyone else, ignored him. But the Newtown issue heated up again on Dec. 10 when Veronique and Lenny Pozner, whose son, Noah, died at Sandy Hook, wrote an op-ed in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel newspaper accusing Mr. Tracy of taunting them for trying to keep photos of their son private. The Pozners also filed a police complaint against Mr. Tracy for harassment.

This finally was too much for university officials, who served Mr. Tracy with a notice of proposed discipline recommending termination.

Harassing the Pozner family is unconscionable. Their tormentor ought to be dismissed.

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Online:

https://cour.at/1mFJEw6

The Valley News (Vt.), Dec. 20, 2015

Because “middle class” and “American Dream” are virtually synonymous in the minds of so many people, two recent Valley News headlines were arresting in their implications: One read, “Study Finds Middle Class No Longer Majority”; the other, “Poll: Nearly Half of Youth Say ‘American Dream’ Is Dead.”

The former accompanied a story reporting on a new study by the Pew Research Center, which found that middle class households no longer account for a majority of the adult population. The latter appeared over a report about a new survey of America’s youth, which suggested that nearly half of 18- to 29- year-olds think living the American Dream is not possible for them.

These studies will no doubt further inform, or inflame, the 2016 presidential race, in which virtually every candidate in both parties has risen to the rhetorical, although not necessarily the material, defense of the shrinking middle class. And with good reason: Membership in a broad, prosperous and stable middle class has always been a foundation of the American project- some might say American myth -that was supposedly attainable to all who were willing to work hard to achieve it. That’s probably why over the years so many Americans have identified themselves as middle class when their actual economic circumstances placed them in lower or higher brackets, and why politicians are anxious to appeal to them.

Of course, as the Pew study points out, middle class and middle income are not necessarily the same thing. Class can encompass such things as education level, kind of employment, home ownership and social and political values as well as income. But they are close enough to be used interchangeably here.

In any case, the portion of American adults living in middle-income households has fallen from 61 percent in 1971 to just under 50 percent in 2015, Pew found. Meanwhile, the nation’s aggregate household income has shifted markedly from middle-income to upper-income households: In 2014, 49 percent of aggregate income accrued to upper-income households, up from 29 percent in 1970. Meanwhile, 43 percent went to middle-income households in 2014, down from 62 percent in 1970.

The picture is not totally one of gloom and doom, however. The share of upper-income households has grown much faster since 1971 than the share of lower-income households, which accounts for part of the shift in the portion of aggregate income. Still, the documented trend toward increased inequality is troubling to say the least.

The effect apparently is being felt acutely among young people, as their “American Dream: Dead or Alive?” responses indicated, although college graduates expressed more optimism by far than their less-educated counterparts.

This probably reflects a broader societal divide. We are hardly the first to note that the Donald Trump phenomenon is largely attributable to the anger of downwardly mobile working-class voters whose economic insecurities he expertly exploits. The danger is apparent to anyone familiar with how such discontent was fanned into the hatred that gave rise to extreme ideologies in 20th-century Europe.

The challenge for politicians more responsible than Trump is how to give Americans marginalized by the nation’s changing economy, diversifying demographics and shifting social mores both a reason to believe again and something to believe in- or to put it another way, to channel anger and despair into achieving a productive end. As Joan Walsh wrote recently in The Nation, the creation of a vast middle class following the Depression and World War II was the result of a conscious decision to reduce inequality by, among other measures, investing in education and infrastructure- paid for by rising tax rates -while strengthening protections for unions. Broad prosperity ensued. The nation can make a similar choice now if it can muster the political will. Whether this is an American pipe dream or the revival of the American Dream, only time will tell.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1R1alGI

The Berkshire Eagle (Mass.), Dec. 24, 2015

Gun violence ruined this holiday season for the families of thousands of victims over the years. Efforts continue to spare other families similar heartache.

In a letter last Tuesday, Attorney General Maura Healey warned the state’s 350 licensed gun dealers that they must follow the state’s strict gun laws, adding her office will conduct spot inspections. Her office is evidently in the process of investigating potential violators.

Noting in her letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Boston Globe, that 100,000 Americans have been killed by guns since the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre of three years ago, Ms. Healey referred to this savagery as a “public health crisis.” State law enforcement officials, who have to deal with this crisis up close, endorsed the warning sent to gun dealers.

On Christmas Day, several National Basketball Association players, accompanied by gun violence survivors and family members of people killed by guns, spoke out against gun violence in public service announcements shown during nationally televised games. Movie director and NBA fan Spike Lee, a member of the creative council of Everytown For Gun Safety, brought Everytown and the NBA together for the powerful ads, which will continue.

Americans can’t wait for a craven Congress to do something about this public health crisis. Much can be done at other levels of government, and pro athletes have a powerful cultural impact that can actually be used beneficially. “We can do something about this and that’s the point,” said Chicago Bulls star Joakim Noah. “If we can then we should.” So should we all.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1QNPgRX

The Portsmouth Herald (N.H.), Dec. 23, 2015

One of the great pleasures of the New Hampshire primary is getting to meet the many candidates who fall short of winning their party’s nomination.

One of our favorite long-shot candidates, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, suspended his campaign Monday, unable to raise himself from the bottom of the crowd of GOP contenders.

While Graham did not win the votes of New Hampshire residents, he certainly made many friends during his frequent campaign appearances.

Graham made a good impression on our editorial board when he visited us in August and he was unequivocal in his call for increasing our military efforts to defeat the so-called Islamic State.

“If you don’t think they’re going to try to hit us again, you’re not listening,” Graham said, months before the attacks in Paris, France and San Bernardino, Calif. “Ignoring them leads to a world in complete chaos.”

While Graham aggressively called for taking the fight to ISIS, he strongly rebuked frontrunner Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and policy proposals. During his last visit to the Seacoast on Dec. 10 he told Portsmouth Rotary: “The last thing you want to do is declare war on all Muslims.”

“How do you go to any of these countries and build a coalition when your policy is simply because you’re a Muslim you can’t come to America,” Graham said. “You know what makes no sense to me is to go down the road that all Muslims are our enemy. That’s the road where you never win the war.”

Graham also displayed a great sense of humor on the campaign trail. A national audience enjoyed his video of destroying his cellphone after Trump released his private number. But he also gave us some laughs locally.

At the Rotary meeting he joked with former Portsmouth Mayor Peter Weeks, who had fallen ill during Graham’s first campaign appearance at Two International Group: “Thank you for not dying in my first meeting.”

Graham’s parents had run a bar and pool hall in South Carolina and Graham and his sister were raised upstairs. That may be why his solution to political gridlock in Washington is for politicians from both parties to spend more time drinking together.

“If I get to be president I’m going to open up a bar in the White House,” Graham said. “We’re going to get liquored up and solve problems.”

While Graham is no longer a candidate, he will still have the ability to influence events in the all-important South Carolina primary, which takes place Feb. 20, shortly after the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1 and the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9.

And we can be certain the one candidate Graham will not support is the billionaire from New York.

“If he had half a brain about this war, he’d understand he’s made (ISIS) stronger, not weaker,” Graham said of Trump’s anti-Muslim proposals.

Candidates like former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Democrats Lincoln Chaffee and Jim Webb probably did more damage than good in their failed quests for their parties’ nominations.

Not so Lindsey Graham, who is only 60 years old and has plenty of political life ahead of him. We’re certain that if he returns to the Granite State at some future date, many voters will welcome him back with open arms.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1U9Xz86

The Providence Journal (R.I.), Dec. 26, 2015

Mother Teresa of Calcutta received many honors during her lifetime for her charitable work. This included the Nobel Peace Prize (1979) and Presidential Medal of Freedom (1985).

But she may be about to attain her greatest honor, Catholic sainthood.

Mother Teresa was beatified as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in 2003 when she was attributed with the miracle of healing an Indian woman’s tumor. A light reportedly shone from a photo of Mother Teresa in the woman’s home during her illness. Her doctor believes that medicine, not faith, cured her tumor.

On Dec. 17, Pope Francis approved a purported second miracle attributed to Mother Teresa. This time, it was the healing of a Brazilian man with a viral brain infection and multiple tumors. (Under Catholic belief, sainthood requires that at least two miracles be attributed to the candidate after his or her death.)

Her canonization date hasn’t been announced yet. Some news sources, like Britain’s The Guardian, have suggested Sept. 4, 2016, which would be close to the 19th anniversary of her death.

Born into a Kosovar Albanian family, Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. Congregation members follow the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and providing “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”

Mother Teresa once said, “One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.” That’s why her missionary clinics have spent decades helping poor people, wayward adults and children, refugees, AIDS victims and countless others.

She also faced her fair share of criticism.

Some groups argued that her opposition to abortion and contraception was not compassionate to the poor. Her clinics were attacked for a lack of medical care and poor conditions. She associated with Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, and questionable business figures such as Robert Maxwell and Charles Keating. A few felt her activities were nothing more than a front for converting people to Catholicism. The late British writer Christopher Hitchens called her “a fanatic, a fundamentalist and a fraud.”

Look for her canonization to revive that debate.

Whatever her failings, Mother Teresa did devote her life to giving poor people hope and a place to live. She cared for her fellow human beings that others often ignore. She never earned a dime for her hard work.

Certainly, those aspects of her life were saintly.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1U9XMrX

Portland Press Herald (Maine), Dec. 21, 2015

When a driver registers a .08 or higher on a blood-alcohol test, drawing an OUI and all the expensive, life-altering consequences that come with it, there is little doubt that they were impaired while driving.

In fact, many people are at least slightly impaired well before they reach that level, but the law gives those people some leeway by setting the strict standard high enough so that unimpaired drivers are not mistakenly charged and prosecuted.

There is a temptation to apply the same logic to those driving under the influence of marijuana, by establishing a measurable limit to how much of the drug you can have in your system before it becomes too unsafe to drive. Go over it, and you get charged with operating under the influence, no questions asked.

But the science just isn’t there yet, and any attempt by Maine to force such a legal threshold will result in bad convictions, and not make roads any safer.

Unfortunately, that’s the recommendation of the majority of a working group charged by the Legislature with studying the issue.

In its report released last week, most of the group agreed that it should be a crime to operate a vehicle with a level of THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, of 5 nanograms or more per milliliter of blood.

That’s the law in Colorado, Washington state and Montana, where it is used in the same way as blood-alcohol content to determine an OUI charge.

Except that it is nothing like a blood-alcohol test.

Alcohol enters the body and is metabolized quickly. Its presence in the bloodstream and its impairing effects occur at the same time. As a result blood-alcohol level corresponds well with impairment.

Marijuana metabolites, however, remain in the body longer, after the impairing effects have passed, particularly for medical marijuana patients and frequent recreational users.

The blood test, then, can only tell for sure that someone has used marijuana in the recent past, maybe a day or two before. It says nothing definite about impairment.

Yet if the study group’s recommendation is followed, a positive test would bring a charge, loss of license, increased insurance rates, and possible jail time just the same.

And there is no evidence it would make Maine roads any safer.

In the first full year after marijuana was legalized in Washington state, the number of drivers testing positive increased by nearly 25 percent, but there was no increase in car accidents or fatalities.

In fact, there is a lot of research to suggest that there is no link between a positive test and safety behind the wheel, either because the test does not actually gauge impairment, or marijuana does not have the same effect on driving ability that alcohol does. It’s probably a combination of both.

In any case, driving while impaired on marijuana is already illegal in Maine. Police now use officers specially trained in drug recognition to identify those drivers.

In court, that’s not as clear-cut as a blood-alcohol test. But until tests for marijuana improve, it’s the best we’ve got.

Maine should increase the number of drug recognition officers- as recommended by the study group -and forget about a law that would do nothing but fill court dockets.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1kkzbEz


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