- Associated Press - Saturday, July 18, 2015

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

The Providence Journal (R.I.), July 16, 2015

Donald Trump’s deplorable screed against Mexican immigrants (he called them rapists and drug-dealers in his presidential announcement last month) has dealt a blow to his not inconsiderable business empire. Indeed, blue chip brands are severing ties with the real estate magnate at a rapid clip. Department store chain Macy’s will no longer carry Trump’s brand of ties; the PGA will stop hosting tournaments at a golf course he owns; and the Spanish language television network Univision announced it would not air the Trump-owned Miss USA pageant.

Perhaps the biggest blow that Trump has suffered was NBC’s announcement that it would sever ties with the GOP candidate. That means NBC too will not air either the Miss USA or Miss Universe pageants, and Trump will never return to “The Apprentice.”

Certainly these businesses are well within their rights. Why would respected brands want to associate themselves with a man who has painted virtually all undocumented immigrants from Mexico as criminals?

And yet, in NBC’s case at least, there is more than a hint of hypocrisy. The same network that dumped Trump still employs Al Sharpton, who hosts a daily program on MSNBC, the Peacock Network’s 24-hour cable news station.

Sharpton has a far more florid history of making racist and bigoted remarks than does Trump. He’s talked variously of “Chinamen,” ”white interlopers” and “Greek homos,” who stole civilization from Africa. And the reverend has a long history of anti-Semitism, playing a central role in the 1991 Crown Heights Riot (essentially a modern-day pogrom), which killed two. Later, he talked in coded language of “diamond merchants.”

Nor has Sharpton particularly cleaned up his act in recent years. Last year, an exhaustive New York Times investigation found that “Sharpton has regularly sidestepped the sorts of obligations most people see as inevitable, like taxes, rent and other bills.” As of last November, there were more than $4.5 million in federal and state tax liens against Sharpton and his businesses, the Times reported. In other words, Sharpton continues to fail to live up to the basic obligations of American citizenship. Yet there he is, rewarded by NBC with a daily television program - and, incidentally, frequently invited to the White House.

Anyone can say the wrong thing at times. But it seems to us that demagogic ethnic slurs by people playing politics are unacceptable no matter who utters them.




Kennebec Journal (Maine), July 13, 2015

Last month’s Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage was a monumental and profound moment in the struggle for marriage equality and equal rights. After years of legal, political and personal appeals, the 5-4 ruling extended to all same-sex couples the rights and protections, and respect and dignity, that the institution of marriage affords.

But the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, though momentous and worthy of celebration, is no more the final word in marriage equality than Roe v. Wade was the final word in women’s reproductive rights, or the passage of the Voting Rights Act was the final word on minority enfranchisement.

No, opponents will not concede now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land. Instead, they’ll chip away at the edges.

The momentum following the court ruling, then, should be used to fight back against those efforts, and to pass the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, so the equal protection promised in the Constitution is truly realized.

In pushing back on Obergefell v. Hodges, marriage-equality opponents will start with so-called religious freedom laws, the kind that were scuttled recently in Arizona and Indiana - and subsequently dropped in Maine - following an outcry from businesses and residents.

These laws are unnecessary and even harmful. Religious freedom is guaranteed in the Constitution, and the right for churches and ministers to refuse to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies is well-established.

And for all the talk about who will be forced to bake a cake for whom, it is the rights of gays and lesbians, not religious business owners, that have been trampled on for years with the full backing of the law. Religious freedom laws would only make that sort of discrimination more likely, at a time when it is clear we should be heading in the other direction.

State legislatures got it right when they killed these laws earlier this year. They shouldn’t let a more focused effort by conservatives angry at the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling resurrect them.

At the same time, attacks on same-sex marriage will continue on the federal level.

A constitutional amendment banning the practice is a pipe dream, but a future court could revisit the issue.

The recent ruling was as close as it gets, and the next president may have the opportunity to nominate multiple justices. All of the Republican presidential candidates who have declared so far denounced the Supreme Court ruling, and all are opposed to same-sex marriage.

In that way, the court ruling is more like a victory in Game 1 of the World Series than a win in the Super Bowl.

However, to stick with the sports theme, marriage equality proponents shouldn’t be content to play defense.

It is still legal in 29 states to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation (and in three additional states, on the basis of gender identity).

So while gays and lesbians are now free to marry in states like Alabama, Texas, Pennsylvania and Kansas, they can still be fired if the wrong boss sees them kiss their spouse goodbye.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would make this sort of discrimination illegal in all 50 states. Only then will same-sex couples truly be on equal footing with other married Americans.




Valley News (N.H.), July 16, 2015

Jeb Bush’s clarion call last week for Americans to work longer hours was issued at a particularly inopportune moment: In July, millions of Bush’s fellow citizens are on vacation, resting from their labors and savoring for a welcome change the pleasures of not working. We suspect, though, that that’s only one reason why the embattled American worker is not likely to rally to this cause.

For those who missed what may become a defining moment in the 2016 presidential campaign, Bush told the editorial board of the Union Leader that, “My aspiration for the country - and I believe we can achieve it - is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”

Bush subsequently issued an implausible clarification, claiming that he was merely saying that those part-time workers who aspire to a full-time job - estimated at 6.5 million - ought to have the opportunity to get one. It is plain from the context that that’s not what he was talking about. If it had been, the point was so obvious that it did not even need to be made: No one would dispute that those who want full-time work should be able to obtain it. Moreover, a 4 percent economic growth rate - which many economists consider sheer fantasy anyway - would require that far more people than the currently underemployed would have to work much longer hours.

It’s understandable that Bush feels strongly about work. According to The New York Times, since leaving the governor’s office in Florida in 2007, he has been paid $27 million for giving speeches, serving on corporate boards and consulting for a couple of banks. “I worked constantly and traveled the globe for my clients,” he has said. “Over these years, my income increased thanks to hard work and experience.”

It perhaps has not occurred to Bush that many ordinary people would not categorize as actual “work” the activity he describes and that in any case his ardor for pursuing it might be significantly cooled were he being paid $12 an hour.

To whatever extent Americans are not working as long and hard as Bush would wish, the reasons are plain. Good jobs for ordinary people are drying up at an alarming rate, wage growth is stagnant for everybody but top-earning families and the United States lags behind in policies that encourage work, such as excellent and affordable child care and paid leave.

In fact, Americans work plenty - an average of 34.4 hours a week in 2013, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. That’s more than their counterparts in just about all wealthy countries, including 30 percent more hours than Germans. (Just for the record, Donald Trump, Mexicans worked more than anybody else in 2013, at 43 hours per week, the OECD reported.) It’s also worth noting that in a 2014 Gallup survey, Americans reported working an average of 47 hours a week.

Bush’s remarks were not, as they have been characterized, a gaffe, but rather another expression of the sotto voce Republican conviction that America is a nation of slackers and strivers, and that the former heavily outweigh the latter. They are simply a variant of Mitt Romney’s revelatory comments last time around about “the 47 percent” of Americans who purportedly are dependent on the government; who think they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, “to you-name-it”; who believe they are victims; and who don’t pay any income tax. This is a world view that says far more about those who hold it than it does about the people it disparages.




The Bristol Press (Conn.), July 16, 2015

For years now, we’ve heard warnings about the effects of the “digital divide” - the growing gap between Internet haves and have-nots. Sure, there are many who still don’t have connections in their homes and don’t want them (though, we’re guessing, they don’t really have any idea of what their missing!) But there are some for whom going without is not a choice and is, in fact, more serious than missing out on Facebook, cat videos and Amazon bargains.

As President Barack Obama explained Wednesday, for students (and, we’d add, job-seekers), it’s a 21st century necessity.

The lack of home access to the Internet simply contributes to that achievement gap that Connecticut has been battling for decades.

Some years ago, the government pushed to ensure that schools across America have computer banks for student use, as well as Internet connections. ConnectEd is a federal program that, Obama said, is on track to wire 99 percent of K-12 classrooms and libraries with high-speed Internet by the end of 2017.

That will help, certainly, but what about after school? What about homework assignments that require research - and, yes, the kids can go to the public library. But how many live within reasonable walking distance? Meanwhile, their peers only have to log on and they’re already ahead, further widening a gap created by the birth lottery. More than 90 percent of households headed by a college graduate have Internet access, Obama said. But fewer than half of low-income households have similar access.

That’s why we were happy to see the president unveil a program to bring faster Internet connections to more low-income households, particularly to help students living in public and assisted housing stay ahead in school.

Under ConnectHome, the public, private and nonprofit sectors have pledged to work together to provide high-speed connections and digital devices to more families at lower cost, the Associated Press reported.

The new federal program is expected to begin in 27 cities, including Meriden, Conn. Obviously, we’re hoping that it will quickly expand throughout central Connecticut.

Because, as Obama said, “In this digital age, when you can apply for a job, take a course, pay your bills … with a tap of your phone, the Internet is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. You cannot connect with today’s economy without having access to the Internet.”




Rutland Herald (Vt.), July 10, 2015

Successful completion of talks with Iran to curb its nuclear weapons program points to the ability of President Barack Obama to see beyond the horizon, pursuing his “long game” and looking past what one observer has called the “perpetual hysterics” of Washington.

Following the announcement of Washington’s deal with Iran, commentators have begun what seems like an about-face in their view of Obama’s success as president. Just a few months ago, the prevailing story was that Obama was suffering the second-term blues, that the Republican Congress had effectively stymied him, that all he could do was flail helplessly as he watched the clock run down.

The story has changed, and the Iran deal has capped it off with what ought to be a historic success. Other successes this year include a win in Congress to gain fast-track authority for a trade deal with Pacific nations; a climate agreement with China; reviving relations with Cuba; action undertaken on immigration; and two landmark Supreme Court decisions supporting Obama’s positions. These were the second decision upholding the Affordable Care Act and the decision requiring marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Further, Obama is taking a more active and vocal role on the question of criminal justice and violence against African-Americans. His eulogy in Charleston, S.C., was an inspiring moment, fulfilling the hopes of Americans that Obama could lead the nation in addressing the continually vexing problem of race. He continues to move the ball forward on issues of race, and with his visit to a prison in Oklahoma, he has moved it forward on the issue of mass incarceration.

Many of his important initiatives have required an ability to see the big picture. From the outset of his presidency, he made it known that he was willing to meet with our adversaries and to break free of hostility that had hardened over time. It has taken time, and it has required him to risk criticism. But Obama has always seemed to know what he believes and to know what he wants to do with his presidency.

He resisted the advice of his own advisers in pursuing health care reform at the outset of his presidency, and though his actions provoked fierce resistance, they have paid off with important reforms that the American people will be reluctant to turn away from.

In a long article on the website Politico, Jon Favreau, a former speechwriter for Obama, said, “When it came time to actually govern, he put the history books ahead of the news cycles, and our politics will be better off if future presidents follow his example - because thousands of words written since the midterms about how resigned and defeated Obama is now seem as insightful as the comments section of a blog.” Favreau was the observer who made note of the distracting hysterics that ordinarily dominate Washington.

The fierce and seemingly unthinking response of Republicans to Obama’s initiatives has stemmed in part from the weakness of their position. They understood that if Obamacare took effect, it would become popular. Therefore, they needed to kill it before the people had a chance to benefit from it. Otherwise, Obama would notch up a historic victory that would improve the Democrats’ position for the future.

The Republicans’ reflexive rejection of the Iran agreement falls in the same category. The American people are likely to see the logic that peace is better than war and that the nation is strong enough to take a chance on peace. The Republicans are left to argue that a pact by which Iran gives up the bomb is really going to gain them the bomb. It is a wild supposition based on fear, which is the only argument Republican critics have left.

Even as a candidate for president in 2008, Obama pursued the long game, even as friends and supporters succumbed to occasional fits about his methods and strategy. But he achieved a historic success, and as his presidency closes in on its final quarter, the successes are mounting.




The Eagle-Tribune (Mass.), July 16, 2015

Such is the skill of the scientists and engineers who work for NASA that, after a journey of more than nine years and 3 billion miles, the New Horizons probe arrived July 14 at its close encounter with Pluto 72 seconds ahead of schedule.

Surely, the people who made this deep-space mission possible and who are managing it today deserve a round of applause. The rest of us can take a moment to bask in the glow of national pride. We may have to hitch rides with the Russians to the International Space Station but nobody - nobody - can match our skill with unmanned planetary probes.

New Horizons is the fastest vehicle ever produced by humans. Launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2006 at a speed of 36,373 mph - fast enough to escape the solar system - the probe reached Jupiter in just 13 months. There, it used the giant planet’s gravity for a course correction and a speed boost. Still under the drag of the sun’s gravity, the probe has slowed a bit. It zipped past Pluto July 14 at roughly 31,000 mph.

New Horizons was built for speed. It lacks the propellant it would need to slow down enough to go into orbit around Pluto. So like the Pioneer and Voyager missions of the 1970s and 1980s, it is a fly-by. New Horizons turned off its communications with Earth Monday night so it could focus on data collection during its 7,200-mile closest approach to Pluto. The probe successfully re-established contact with home on the evening of July 14 and began sending back its data.

New Horizons will continue on to the Kuiper belt, a ring of icy and rocky debris outside the orbit of Neptune left over from the formation of the solar system. The Kuiper belt is the source of some comets - those with orbits that bring them around the sun every 200 years or so. It is also the home of Eris, a recently discovered dwarf planet nearly as large as Pluto. The discovery of Eris in 2005 and its similarity to Pluto helped get the former ninth planet demoted to dwarf planet status.

After investigating any Kuiper belt objects it encounters, New Horizons will eventually join Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 in the vast emptiness of interstellar space.

The stunning pictures of Pluto and its moons as well as the reams of data collected will keep planetary scientists working for years.

There are certainly some who question the value of the $700 million mission. But New Horizons has provided us with our one chance to get a clear look at this distant world. We are unlikely to visit Pluto again anytime soon. There are other, more interesting places - such as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn - much closer to home.

The one-time encounter has vastly increased our knowledge of Pluto. For most of the time since its discovery in 1930, Pluto has been little more than a bright speck moving slowly against the background of stars in its 248-year orbit around the sun. More recently, the Hubble Space Telescope had been able to resolve Pluto into a blurry disk. The latest images from New Horizons show previously unimagined features on the surfaces of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. Ice caps, craters, canyons and a mysterious heart-shaped region can be seen

But there’s more value to New Horizons than the collection of scientific data and intriguing pictures. The skill and ingenuity required to execute such a mission are important to maintain. They have value outside the realm of planetary exploration.

And finally, there is the simple satisfaction of exploration itself - a deeply human impulse. New Horizons has indeed lived up to its name, taking mankind somewhere we have never gone before.




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