- Associated Press - Saturday, May 2, 2015

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

The Rutland Herald (Vt.), April 30, 2015

Sen. Bernard Sanders will announce today that he plans to run for president. He is the first candidate to take on Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, though never before in his long career has he identified himself as a Democrat. He has been a party of one, known by all as Bernie, a democratic socialist who has been denouncing the excesses of corporate America since even before his election as Mayor of Burlington in 1981.

Voices on the left are welcoming Sanders into the race because they believe Clinton is too closely tied to Wall Street and is too hawkish in foreign policy. Sen. Elizabeth Warren remains the darling of Democratic progressives because of her record as a critic of Wall Street, but she has said she will not run, leaving an opening for Sanders.

Until now the press has treated Sanders as something of a joke- a far-out figure in a rumpled suit with limited familiarity with a comb. That he is a Jew from Brooklyn who became a socialist senator from Vermont is quirky enough to amuse the cognoscenti. He is 73-years-old, which is old to run for president, even if his rhetoric is like that of an angry young man. Ronald Reagan was 69 when he ran in 1980.

Still, Sanders has found that his rhetoric about economic inequality and the corrupting influence of money in politics is striking a chord. The Great Recession and the crimes of Wall Street have given added resonance to Sanders’ language about corporate abuse. Growing awareness of economic inequality and the decline of the middle class has aligned many voters with what Sanders has been saying for decades.

Clinton is aware of the voter mood. She launched her campaign in Iowa speaking of how the deck was stacked against ordinary citizens and how she wanted to be their champion. Her defenders say she has been a champion of ordinary people all her life. But unease still prevails on the left because of the corporate-friendliness of her husband’s presidency and the big money associated with the Clintons’ foundation and Hillary Clinton’s corporate speaking engagements.

Clinton has said that Elizabeth Warren serves the useful purpose of holding her feet to the fire. Now that will be Sanders’s job. It will get more difficult for him once he becomes a candidate.

Sanders’ strength is also his weakness. He is an ideologue whose view of the world has been static for many years- he has been called the Ron Paul of the left. Thus, he is consistent and clear in his message. He doesn’t mince words. He doesn’t cater to special interests. He doesn’t shade his meanings. He doesn’t try to spare the feelings of sensitive corporate executives who grow faint when they are called fat cats.

The weakness of the ideologue is that he is humorless, lacking in nuance. He always says the same thing and has a simple answer for everything. The issue of free trade is one that divides Democrats, and Sanders, predictably, lines up with unions and workers in criticizing the looming Trans-Pacific Partnership. The trade deal may be good for corporations, but it may also be good for America and the Pacific region, a notion Clinton will have to try to explain in her campaign.

Vermonters have always viewed Sanders as their own unique phenomenon. He has been popular among progs and woodchucks alike, who like that he tells it like he sees it. As the idea of Bernie as president sinks in, however, even his loyal supporters in Vermont may doubt that Bernie has the personal and intellectual constitution to become a credible candidate for president. On the Republican side, there is a long list of lesser candidates, but Sanders will be running against Hillary Clinton, a formidable public figure with a real and substantial record of accomplishments. There are likely to be several other Democrats in the race. Sanders has broken the ice, showing the way for Martin O’Malley, James Webb and perhaps others to give Clinton a run for her money.




The Standard-Times of New Bedford (Mass.), April 29, 2015

A photo published in The Baltimore Sun on April 28 showed young black men gleefully, almost hysterically, dashing out of a looted Baltimore CVS store that would later be set ablaze.

One was clutching a box of Fruit Loops and a half-gallon of ice cream, and one had a couple 50-ounce bottles of Arm & Hammer Laundry Detergent, dermatologist tested, for sensitive skin.

The mob mentality that existed at that moment prompted them to grab items worth less than $20. It was a criminal act warped by the African-American experience in the U.S., where they and their ancestors have long been denied the staples of daily life as immediate as food and as abstract as opportunity to participate in the American dream. Their crime makes an undeniably convincing argument for the need to discuss slavery reparations.

The concentrations of black populations in urban centers are the result of generations of racist policies on housing, banking, education, employment and criminal justice. These cities absorbed people freed from a 250-year-old slave economy that required a civil war to end it. The truth is, the bigotry and commercial exploitation of African-Americans that enriched the nation’s earliest industrialists still exists and continues to funnel black communities into dead ends from which escape is difficult, to say the least.

Those young men with their ice cream and laundry detergent have the choice of seeing their neighborhood as valuable, nurturing communities, or as traps built by the power structure that has determined this is where they belong.

The police, who should be serving and protecting, too often rule by intimidation, meting out punishment beyond the charge of their office. This is not about police going into neighborhoods and straightening out black-on-black crime. It’s about men being afraid to go to jail for not paying child support, making eye contact with a police officer or selling loose cigarettes. These aren’t criminal behaviors, they are responses to living under intimidation.

Looting, violence, vandalism and crime are no solution. They are unjustifiable. They are wrong. They are deplorable. But should they be unexpected any less than infection follows an untreated wound? Two wrongs don’t make a right, but until the wound is healed, how can we expect to prevent the infection? Reparations is a way to treat that wound.

The reality of life for the urban black American is heartbreakingly present in the instruction the mother has to give her son regarding police interactions, in the student who isn’t even aware that her chances for success are less than those of her more affluent peers. But for so many other Americans, these lives are viewed over one electronic device or another and become reality for what amounts to a few moments in the world of media.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers has in every session of Congress since 1989 filed a bill that would begin a discussion on reparations, but it never passes. This discussion must take place. We must understand why black lives matter, and why in 2015 it’s necessary for so many beautiful Americans to be walking through city streets to remind us of that.

What form reparations might take is unknown, but we know that all the policies imbued with racism mentioned above need repair. That might be the place to start.

President Obama said from the White House on April 28, “If our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could; it’s just that it would require everybody saying, ‘This is important; this is significant.’ And, that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns, and we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped, but we’re paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids.”

Let’s remind Congress that “This is important; this is significant,” and remind ourselves of it, while we’re at it.




The Connecticut Post (Conn.), April 28, 2015

Holding an endless stream of world news in the palm of your hand can make you feel empowered- or helpless.

Sure, the web can make the world feel smaller. It can also make the impact of an earthquake 7,500 miles away impossible to process.

The magnitude-7.8 quake on April 25 that ravaged Nepal is estimated to have affected some 8 million lives, or more than twice the population of Connecticut. The death toll in recent hours was creeping toward 5,000. Challenges to reach victims in countryside villages of the Himalayan nation will certainly result in an even higher figure, one some experts fear could double.

Bodies- living and dead -are everywhere in Nepal. Families are cremating their dead along the Begmati River, which winds through the city of Kathmandu. Survivors, fearful of teetering buildings and ground that continues to quiver, try to sleep beneath merciless thunderstorms that cruelly mock fragile tents.

The challenges for relief workers are endless. The single runway at the airport, framed by roads cracked open by the quake, stages a standoff between those fleeing and those arriving to help. Organizers of relief efforts are in desperate need of helicopters, as they deliver supplies such as tents to the suffering and try to quell conditions that can cause an outbreak of disease.

These victims may seem too far away to reach, but two relief agencies in our backyard are among an elite group that creates a sort of temporary umbilical cord to provide precious needs that can sustain life in the worst circumstances.

A warehouse on quiet Hamilton Avenue in Stamford is perpetually filled with supplies in the event of world-changing catastrophes such as this one. AmeriCares delivered medicines within 48 hours of the earthquake and focused on deploying medical teams. Three workers from the Stamford offices left for Nepal Monday night. Fairfield-based Save the Children, meanwhile, is delivering relief equipment and supplies and has its own relief workers on the scene.

These two agencies will help answer the appeal from Nepal for blankets, mattresses and dry goods. The call for help will grow louder in the days and weeks to come. It’s important to identify reliable charities such as AmeriCares (americares.org) and Save the Children (savethechildren.org) not merely because they are neighbors, but because they are on the short list of vetted agencies recognized internationally. Charity Navigator cites them as two of seven charities at the core of the response. We encourage residents to contribute to the effort, but to take care to ensure contributions go to trusted agencies.

This tragedy is another reminder of the fragility of the planet itself, and our man-made infrastructures. For the people of Nepal, the future is no longer in the palm of their hands. Here at home, this is an opportunity to reach out. You don’t have to feel helpless.




The Lebanon Valley News (N.H), April 28, 2015

President Obama’s extraordinary revelation last week that two hostages- an American and an Italian -had been accidentally killed in January during a counterterrorism operation in Pakistan has focused renewed attention on the shadow war being conducted by the United States against al-Qaida militants. What made the president’s acknowledgement so unusual is that while the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen- so-called targeted killings -is an open secret, very little is actually known about its conduct.

Last week, Obama promised a thorough review of the operation that resulted in the deaths of U.S. aid worker Warren Weinstein and Italian national Giovanni Lo Porto- both of whom had been held hostage for years by al-Qaida. The CIA was said to be unaware of their presence when it launched the drone strike on Jan. 15, and it is a testament to the difficulty of determining just who is killed in drone strikes that their deaths were only confirmed recently.

Despite that difficulty, the CIA contends that civilian casualties associated with such strikes are extraordinarily low, with 1 or 2 percent of those killed. That, the agency says, is because of the tremendous accuracy provided by the drones, which are able to remain over targets far longer than piloted aircraft and thus confirm with great certainty that things are as they appear to be on the ground.

Nonetheless, as The Washington Post reported Saturday, the accident has revived questions of why the U.S. government has been unwilling to provide any information about strikes over the past decade in which evidence strongly suggests that civilians have died. “These disclosures have to come every time an innocent life is lost through the drone campaign, and not just when it’s an American civilian,” Jonathan Horowitz of the Open Society Justice Initiative told the Post.

Unacknowledged civilian casualties are only one problematic aspect of the clandestine drone program, of course. It was announced last week that two American al-Qaida operatives were also killed in Pakistan in January, although they had not been “specifically targeted”- the CIA didn’t know they were hiding in compounds that were under surveillance by armed drones. The purported accidental nature of their deaths is significant, because the most controversial aspect of the drone program to date has been the Obama administration’s assertion of the right to kill American citizens abroad without judicial due process when it is determined that they pose an imminent terrorist threat. Of the seven Americans killed so far in drone strikes, only one was deliberately targeted, according to the administration.

Critics have also noted that the drone program represents a departure in the very nature of warfare by interposing a technological separation between the machinery of death and direct human agency. Raining down death from the sky without warning by remote control from hundreds or thousands of miles away imparts a sense of distance between the one who targets and the targeted that is deeply troubling.

These qualms, however, are not shared by Congress, where the drone program enjoys strong bipartisan support. Unlike torture, with all its messy human-rights fallout and its doubtful usefulness as a way to gather intelligence, drone strikes work. And they provide the illusion, at least, of surgical precision, which may or may not match the reality.

In fact, The New York Times reported over the weekend that years of drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt have decimated al-Qaida’s top leadership and forced them to disperse. And defenders of the drone program rightly point out that other ways of going after militants are likely to produce far more “collateral damage” to civilians. So the drone program is almost certainly here to stay in this never-ending war with terrorists. One can only hope that its moral dimensions are delineated more clearly with the passing years.




The Providence Journal (R.I.), April 30, 2015

Oskar Groening somehow embodies both the worst and the best of humanity. His trial challenges us to consider the meaning of guilt and redemption.

The 93-year-old “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz” is on trial in Lueneburg, Germany, charged with accessory to murder.

Three hundred thousand murders.

He has presented an unexpectedly complex case, acknowledging his role and accepting “moral guilt” for his complicity in the mass murder of Jews and others by the Nazis. And yet, he has forced Germans- and the world -to confront the reality of the genocide perpetrated in Europe 70 years ago.

Mr. Groening has admitted he is a former Nazi who kept the books for those who ran the notorious death camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. He took the money of those brought to the camps, counted it, and arranged to transfer it to the government of the killers. He is not accused of putting any prisoner to death, but of abetting the system that killed them by the thousands.

He was a cog in the lethal machinery- a human example of what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.” He was a man who kept his head down and focused on his task, declining to acknowledge the greater horror to which he contributed.

And yet, here he stands in the dock today, describing in unforgettable detail the way the Nazis’ captives were marched from their boxcars into the camps. Many, he told the court, were unsuspecting of what awaited them. He said he couldn’t imagine that many would survive their trip to Auschwitz.

His appearance and testimony are remarkable for a man deserving of condemnation. Even one of the Auschwitz survivors, Eva Kor of Indiana, told him in court this week: “I know this is mentally, physically and emotionally hard for you and I think you are courageous.”

Mr. Groening faces the possibility of a 15-year prison term that he surely wouldn’t survive. But his fate is secondary to the greater narrative about the human condition.

How can humans follow their leaders all the way to such horrors? What weakness permits evil to reign?

And what must be done to purge a people’s guilt?




The Morning Sentinel (Maine), April 29, 2015

The people of Maine have made clear their frustration over the misuse of public assistance programs- it is the central reason why Gov. Paul LePage was voted back into office last November.

Efforts to ban the use of food stamps to buy junk food, however, should not be fueled by a desire to punish those who make poor dietary decisions, or to pacify the voters who become enraged every time they see a poor person buy a candy bar.

Instead, they should be driven by a desire to show food stamp recipients how to eat better on a limited budget, and to fix a food system that contributes greatly to the health problems that plague Americans.

Lawmakers should keep that in mind as they debate L.D. 526, a bill sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, that would ask the federal government for a waiver banning soda, candy, chips and other junk food from the food stamp program.

Katz’s bill is similar to one that was rejected last year, though this time around a member of the Democratic leadership, Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan, has signed on as a co-sponsor, a sign it may have the bipartisan support it needs to pass, particularly following an election in which voters spoke clearly on their desire for welfare reform.

The bill has been criticized for the added stigma it brings to public assistance, and to the added responsibility it places on the retail establishments that sell food.

However, the Women, Infants and Children program, or WIC, operates just fine with similar restrictions, and after all, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program- as food stamps are officially known -has nutrition at its heart.

One estimate says around $2 billion of food stamp funds are spent on sugary drinks alone each year.

The link between poor nutrition and obesity- and heart disease, and any number of other harmful, costly health problems -makes it imperative that policy is aimed at improving nutrition.

But forcing recipients to use their food stamps on broccoli and whole wheat bread rather than energy drinks and candy bars- while welcome news to taxpayers who want to feel better about how their money is being spent -won’t by itself make recipients eat better.

That’s because a poor diet isn’t solely the result of uninformed or irresponsible shoppers; food stamp recipients buy a lot of nutritionally bankrupt food because that is what’s available, and that is what’s affordable.

Just one in six low-income ZIP codes has a supermarket, so residents are often forced to shop in smaller stores, where pre-packaged food far outnumbers nutritional offerings.

It doesn’t help that federal food policy promotes, through subsidies of the corn industry, sugar-laden, heavily processed foods, ensuring that they are cheap and plentiful.

If recipients can’t spend their food stamps on junk food, they’ll just spend their own money on it. In the end, not much will have changed.

There is hope. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that giving recipients an extra 30 cents in benefits for every dollar spent on fruits and vegetables increased consumption of those items by 26 percent.

That’s no small deal- it is estimated that a 50 percent increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables could lead to a 15 percent reduction in heart disease.

Food stamps are now accepted at many farmers markets in Maine, often with 2-for-1 deals. But fruits, vegetables and other nutritional foods have to be available, too, in the places that low-income residents shop every day.

To that end, the USDA should use its clout to pressure stores that accept food stamps to dedicate more shelf space and a larger percentage of its stock to nutritional foods.

Of course, that would require action at the federal level.

So if Katz’s bill passes, lawmakers should write two letters to Washington, one asking for junk food to be removed from Maine food stamp program, and one requesting policy changes that make sure plenty of better options are there to take its place.




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