- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

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

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

Under federal election law and the First Amendment, citizens and groups of citizens have a right to speak out on public issues without limits on their spending or speech. But they are not permitted to use their First Amendment protections as a backdoor to contribute illegally to political campaigns.

Federal election law is clear on that for a good reason: It prevents big money from directly influencing candidates, which would be an open invitation to graft. It is for this reason that direct contributions to candidates’ campaigns are capped.

It is good to see this principle enforced, both to prevent corruption and protect free speech. The coordination of expensive outside TV advertisements with political campaigns should neither be condoned nor winked at as inevitable.

On June 12, a Virginia political operative was sentenced to two years in prison for illegally coordinating what was supposed to be independent speech with a political campaign. The miscreant, one Tyler Harden, admitted that while serving as the campaign manager for a failed Republican congressional candidate in 2012, he simultaneously directed an ostensibly independent group to put out television ads to his liking. This was a clear violation of election law. Harden’s conviction and sentencing were the first of their kind, and we applaud this development.

We hope it will send a warning to campaign operatives everywhere.

In its controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court came down on the side of First Amendment protections for groups acting independently of campaigns. Many politicians have advocated overturning that ruling through a constitutional amendment limiting the speech of groups and organizations. They say Citizens United permitted too much influence of the political debate by special interests, and point out that the ruling unleashed a barrage of sleazy and negative ads.

Nevertheless, it would seem a difficult challenge to amend the Constitution to undermine its essential free-speech protections, even in these days when the First Amendment is under constant attack, as some political activists try to shout down contrarian speech, banish ideas from the public forum or advocate criminal prosecution of those who advance views they believe are false. The effort to weaken the First Amendment remains problematic because Americans, by and large, still cherish free speech and recognize its importance to freedom, justice and self-government.

That does not mean, however, that special interests- some enriched with foreign money, which may not be contributed to candidates directly -should be permitted to coordinate their activities with political campaigns. A clear division must be maintained between campaigns and outside advertising.

We’re pleased that prosecutors and a Virginia court just upheld this important distinction. Strict enforcement will only serve to strengthen support for the First Amendment.




Portland Press Herald (Maine), June 27, 2015

The moment that thousands of families have been waiting for finally came Friday, and although it was years in the making it represented what still seems like a sudden and profound change in the national psyche.

Men and women in every single state can now marry the person they love, create families and build their lives together with the full legal rights and responsibilities that the marriage contract guarantees. How did it happen, just 20 years after Congress passed a law (signed by President Bill Clinton) which outlawed any marriage except those between a man and a woman?

We saw it in Maine. It started with the passage of anti-discrimination laws, allowing people to be open about their sexuality without fear of losing their jobs or apartments. As people came out of the shadows, more marriage opponents realized that neighbors, friends, family members and co-workers were gay, and did not fit the scaremongers’ stereotypes.

Thousands of conversations between ordinary people laid the groundwork for the high-flown arguments in the nation’s courts, culminating in Portland resident Mary Bonauto’s argument in the Supreme Court.

It took all three branches of government on the state and national level to reach this point. Clearly some who fought to prevent this day from coming are probably wondering now what will come next.

If they look to Maine, they will see that there is nothing to worry about. Mothers and fathers now have the security of marriage, and their children are protected, too. There is respect and dignity for every family.

It’s not often that legal documents can pass for great literature, but the last paragraph of Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the majority stands as some of the most moving words captured in a courtroom.

We quote it here in full:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

It was a long time coming, but this part of the struggle for human dignity is over. This result should give inspiration to all those who will be engaged in the struggles ahead.




Daily Hampshire Gazette (Mass.), June 25, 2015

Do no harm. That’s a medical principle, not a legal one. But in its 6-3 decision Thursday, the Roberts court saw through a politically motivated attack on the Affordable Care Act. It found that a system that extended health insurance to millions is operating as legislation meant it to, even if six words in Section 36B of the law are ambiguous.

The Supreme Court’s decision preserves health insurance for six million people who receive subsidies in three dozen states that did not set up their own exchanges. It also protects millions more from the financial shock of rising premiums that was likely if the system was radically upended by a finding for the four plaintiffs in King v. Burwell.

This is the second time the Supreme Court has found for Obamacare. While the first decision in 2012 was grudging, Thursday’s majority opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. contains passages that back the legislative intent.

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” the decision reads.

King v. Burwell got its start when opponents of Obamacare combed through the law to find grounds to attack it legally. They did so despite the fact that the law, after early bumps, became popular and effective. Along with covering people without health insurance, it protected those with pre-existing conditions, allowed children to remain on family insurance plans to the age of 26 and covered valuable preventive services, including some cancer screening, and outlawed a practice of charging women higher premiums.

Four plaintiffs seized on these six words: “an exchange established by the state.” While more than a dozen states formed exchanges to handle applications for coverage, most did not. The IRS had reviewed the wording and determined that in the full context of the legislation, the phrase was not designed to bar participation by people in the states that did not create exchanges. The plaintiffs lost a case last July before the United States Court of Appeals in Virginia and got on the high court’s docket.

If they’d won, the effect would have indeed delivered harm- to real bodies as well as the body politic. And it would have been felt most by poor and middle-class Americans. A full 85 percent of those covered by health exchanges qualify for subsidies based on their income; lack of money is what held so many Americans back from care for so many years.

In an unusual move Thursday, Justice Antonin Scalia delivered his dissent from the bench, signaling his deep disagreement. He mocked the majority for performing “interpretive somersaults” to reach a decision he labeled “absurd.” Also dissenting were the court’s two other conservative members, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Courts should not correct flaws in statutes, Scalia said. “The court’s decision reflects the philosophy that judges should endure whatever interpretive distortions it takes in order to correct a supposed flaw in the statutory machinery.” Oddly, Scalia seems to want the court to engage in judicial activism- something conservatives usually deride.

The majority opinion argued that democracy demands that the court allow lawmakers- not jurists -to set policy. In one passage, Roberts offers a poignant civics lesson that deserves to be recalled and respected long after this court term is over.

“In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined- ‘to say what the law is,’” Roberts wrote, citing a 1803 decision. “That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done.”

That meant not accepting a literal interpretation of those six words but, rather, considering them “consistent with what we see as Congress’s plan ..” Thursday’s decision helps secure the future of one of the Obama administration’s key achievements. It does that today and down the road, for the decision asserts itself as the definitive interpretation of the six words. A future executive branch, under another administration, cannot claim its own interpretation.

While foes of the health care law will continue to battle it in Congress, as the people’s representatives, they must be the ones to destroy it, if that is what is to happen. And then they must attempt to explain to millions of Americans how a law that so improved their quality of life became an enemy of the people.




The (Norwich) Bulletin (Conn.), June 23, 2015

We Americans have a funny habit of rejecting reason, dismissing experts as elitists and dilettantes and ignoring inconvenient truths about our history and shared natural world. Some in southern states- and, for reasons that defy understanding, in the north and even our own region -take that regressive attitude a step further by displaying and actively celebrating artifacts of national shame.

In the aftermath of last week’s racially motivated mass killing in Charleston, S.C., a debate is intensifying over that state’s- and now, Mississippi’s, too -official embrace of the Confederate battle flag. How very sad it is that nothing short of a large-scale tragedy could provoke this discussion or start to move southern politicians toward the correct interpretation of the flag as a symbol of race hate and treason.

The flag’s deep roots in racism extend even beyond the Civil War, which in large part stemmed from disagreement among the states over the federal government’s power to prohibit slavery. The flag was adopted by the Dixiecrats in the 1940s; the party was devoted to segregation and opposed President Truman’s anti-discrimination and lynching policies. The Dixie flag subsequently was employed as a segregationist symbol in the 1960s.

And yet, defenders say the flag is nothing more than a nod to southern heritage; after all, brave men from the South died by the thousands fighting for their own cause in the 1860s. We hope their descendants can find ways to honor them without provoking racial tension- but no matter their motivation, private citizens may do whatever they’d like on their own property.

The rebel flag, however, has no place on state grounds, even if that state’s people can trace their heritage straight through the Confederacy. A secessionist flag flapping proudly near a state capitol building sends an unacceptable message. For that matter, so do the countless statues, parks and public buildings across the South depicting and named after defenders and advocates of slavery.

The Confederate flag is a valuable piece of national history, and it should be treated as such: displayed in museums alongside depictions and explanations of shameful race hatred and treasonous deeds that tarnish our collective past. We are glad that some southern states- and now, large retailers, as they pull Confederate paraphernalia from their shelves -are beginning to wake up.




The Brattleboro Reformer (Vt.), June 26, 2015

The fate of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping trade agreement between the U.S. and some of its major trading partners, is now clearer.

Last Tuesday, a procedural vote denied President Obama the authority to negotiate the agreement on a “fast track” basis, which means whatever deal emerges with our foreign counterparts, it’s only subject to a yes or no vote in Congress, and can’t be modified further. Without such authority, most other nations- wisely -aren’t going to negotiate fully or offer their best deal, for fear they will be upended later when a Congressional representative decides to score some cheap political points for parochial benefit.

The fact that this important trade package has been dragged out this far is discouraging for those who search for signs that a more confident America, ready and willing to engage on an intelligent basis with an emerging world that is going to be different from the post-Cold War one of the past quarter-century, is emerging. That would be in contrast to the at times clumsy fashion that has guided some of our actions in the Middle East, although in fairness, that region presents so many complexities and contradictions that almost any form of engagement has a down side.

Much of the consternation from the political left stems from concern that this deal, if enacted, will doom more blue collar manufacturing workers to the unemployment line and outsource jobs overseas. The evidence of that however, is less than convincing. True enough, when trade began its latest round of global expansion in the 1970s and 80s, many U.S. factories were shuttered, jobs lost, and production moved off-shore. That would have been likely anyway, given the rapid changes already underway. And despite the screeching about NAFTA, the trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, when viewed from the big picture, this deal has hardly been a disaster for the U.S. economy. The growth of the Mexican economy, we would have thought, would have been welcomed- it will reduce the troubling flow of illegal immigration from there.

Obviously, we think TPP will benefit the U.S. in the long run, opening up more jobs- different ones, to be sure -and helping reduce costs for consumers. But the real benefits for the U.S. lies in the trade pact’s statement that we as a nation are determined to remain players in Asia, particularly in the Pacific rim from China to India and throughout the south Pacific. Right now, we are entering a crossroads point in terms of our involvement, engagement and influence there.

Ever since the end of World War II, we have enjoyed a large measure of influence in the region, indeed a pre-eminent one. We earned that through the security umbrella we offered nations and the trade agreements we forged with them. But times are changing, and now it is China, with an expanding economy, an expanding military presence and a more assertive approach to its dealings with its neighbors, that could well challenge that seven decade old consensus.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership will send a signal to our partners in the Far East. Up or down, we’ll still be players in the region, but we may not be the predominant ones. Many might say, so what? When you can’t get your way, after you’re used to getting it, that’s frustrating, and the time will come when the U.S. won’t have its way when it wants or needs to. And that would be unfortunate, because here, though not pristine, the U.S. record for being a benign overseer of regional order hasn’t been a bad one.




(Lebanon) Valley News (N.H), June 24, 2015

The baby bust may finally be over. Preliminary figures indicate that births rose in the United States in 2014 for the first time in seven long years. Only time will tell whether this heralds a new baby boom or only a baby bubble, but it is good news in several respects.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that about 53,000 more babies were born in this country in 2014 than the year before, a 1 percent increase to nearly 4 million. This halted a downward trend that saw the number of births decline steadily beginning in 2007, although the pace of that decline slowed between 2010 and 2013. Births last year increased for nearly every racial and ethnic group. The total fertility rate- the number of children a woman can be expected to have if current birth rates continue -rose slightly to 1.9, although that’s still below the 2.1 experts say is necessary to keep population stable. (On the other side of the coin, the teen birth rate fell 9 percent last year, continuing a remarkable trend that began in 1991. Teenagers gave birth to 249,000 babies in 2014- less than half the peak in 1970 of nearly 645,000.)

The simplest explanation for the increased number of births is that the after-effects of the Great Recession are finally dissipating. Couples who lost jobs in the depths of the downturn, or who feared they would, may be finally regaining confidence that the economy is on the right track and will not be massively derailed again anytime soon. The decision to have a child is often in some sense a parental expression of optimism in the future prospects of both the family and the nation into which he or she will be born. The likelihood that confidence is rebounding can also be inferred from last month’s sales of previously owned homes, which rose at the fastest pace in nearly six years. The increase was driven by first-time buyers, Bloomberg News reported. No doubt some of them needed more room for their growing families.

If an expanding economy represents good news for potential parents, increased births are likewise good news for economic expansion. While economic growth is usually chalked up to increased productivity- people working harder and more efficiently -some economists argue that that’s only part of the story. They attribute up to a third of economic growth to more people joining the workforce each year than leaving it. That results in more production, more earning and more spending.

The labor pool expanded for decades because of the vast cohort of baby boomers, who, of course, are now retiring. Experts fret that with low birth rates, not enough new workers will come along to replace the boomers, much less add to the workforce. In this they see a prescription for slow future growth. On the other hand, when the working-age population increases as a share of a nation’s overall population, more people are earning money, paying taxes and supporting schools for the young and retirement programs for the old.

The United States, of course, could do much more to encourage parents to have more children, especially in supporting family leave and child care. But that’s an editorial for another time. For now, the nation can thank its parents for the vote of confidence.






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