- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

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

The New London Day (Conn.), May 4, 2015

The May 3 shooting deaths in Garland, Texas, of two gunmen with suspected Islamic extremist ties who reportedly attacked an exhibit of cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad is reminiscent of January’s massacre of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris, and has ignited fresh fears of domestic terror.

The Texas incident, in which police said an officer killed the heavily armed pair after they attempted to storm the exhibit and managed to open fire and hit a security guard in the ankle, also has provoked renewed debate over what constitutes free speech as opposed to hate crime.

The event did not just feature an exhibit of cartoons; it was an incendiary contest soliciting caricatures of the Islamic leader, organized by a woman branded the leader of a hate group with a history of making anti-Muslim comments. The event also featured a speech by a right-wing Dutch politician who is on an al Qaeda hit list.

As an institution granted First Amendment privileges, this newspaper supports free speech, which the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted differently over the years.

Back in 1919 the justices upheld the conviction of a man named Charles Schenck who had been found guilty of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 because he printed 15,000 fliers urging young men to resist military conscription. The court ruled that although Mr. Schenck’s actions weren’t as flagrant as “falsely shouting fire in a theater,” they did present a “clear and present danger” to the nation’s security.

But 50 years later, the court reversed itself on “clear and present danger” in supporting the free-speech right of Ku Klux Klan leader Charles Brandenburg to use inflammatory language and racial slurs at a televised Ohio rally, ruling that his rant wasn’t intended “to incite imminent lawless action.”

We do not have enough information now to judge whether Pamela Geller, organizer of Sunday’s “Jihad Watch Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” had any such specific intentions, but you don’t have to be Oliver Wendell Holmes to realize that her actions would inflame Islamic militants. Mrs. Gellar once told The New York Times she believed the only “moderate Muslim is a secular Muslim” and that when Muslims “pray five times a day . they’re cursing Christians and Jews five times a day.”

Mrs. Gellar also has called President Obama the “love child” of Malcolm X, claiming he was once involved with a “crack whore.”

Even though the jury may still be out on whether her actions were intended to incite “imminent lawless action,” details about the two men gunned down outside the exhibit certainly point in that direction.

Law-enforcement authorities report that one suspect, identified as Elton Simpson, linked himself to ISIS in a tweet posted just before the attack. Officials say he had been convicted of making a false statement involving international and domestic terrorism. The other suspect, identified as Nadir Soofi, was Simpson’s roommate in a Phoenix apartment.

Regardless of whether the contest was constitutionally protected free speech or illegal incitation to lawlessness, it certainly was maliciously ill advised.

We support the rights of those to speak on behalf of the causes they represent, but like the Supreme Court condemn those who stage loathsome publicity stunts for the sole purpose of fomenting violence.




The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus (Vt.), May 6, 2015

A poll by The New York Times and CBS News shows that attitudes about race relations and the police have worsened dramatically in the past year, especially among whites.

One question asked: “Do you think race relations in the United States are generally good or generally bad?” A year ago blacks were about twice as likely as whites to say they were generally bad. Since then the percentage of blacks saying generally bad has risen from about 43 percent to about 62 percent. In the same time the percentage of whites saying generally bad has risen from about 23 percent to about 61 percent.

Blacks remain much more anxious about the police and much more apt to believe that police are more likely to use deadly force against black people.

These changing attitudes follow months of racial unrest and heightened awareness of police violence against unarmed black men. Demonstrations and rioting have occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Baltimore, and it may seem as if the United States has retreated to an earlier stage of hostility and lack of understanding between the races. It does not feel like the age of enlightenment that might have been expected, or at least hoped for, after the election of the first African-American president.

But this is not 1964, 1965, 1967 or 1968- years when devastating riots scarred major cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Newark, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. The riots of that era grew out of a major awakening about civil rights and economic inequality when old habits of police brutality were still in force and the attitudes on both sides were raw.

Racism and brutality still exist, and recent events have been unsettling, but they take place in a context far different from the conditions existing in the 1960s. Evidence of racism within police departments and court systems is now before us and cannot be brushed aside. This evidence is added to growing awareness of the decades-old policies and practices targeting African-Americans for prison and subjecting them to harsh enforcement and penalties. Awareness is also growing of the effects of economic decline on the lives of people in the inner cities where joblessness corrodes communities, families and individual lives.

This is a grand teachable moment. And the fact that we have an African-American president drives home lessons about the humanity of those who have always been relegated to a second-class status. Teachable moments do not always feel good, however. They can be wrenching, unpleasant and fraught with conflict.

Vermont had an intense teachable moment in 2000 when the entire state wrestled with the question of civil unions and gay rights. It was ugly and emotional. It may not have felt like progress, but that is how progress feels. The lessons we are learning now about race and justice are tough to experience and do not feel like progress. If the worst sorts of violence- like that of the 1960s -can be avoided, then the lessons we are learning about race, police, prison, crime and economic inequality may sink in.

They are already sinking in. Another story in The New York Times this week described how police across the country are beginning to question the 21-foot rule, which holds that someone 21 feet or closer may have to be repelled by gunfire if the person chooses to attack. Police now are asking themselves whether that hard-and-fast rule has led to deaths that could have been avoided by using techniques to defuse a situation without violence. It is an instance where the lessons of the past few months are having a positive effect.

The ugliness of the civil unions struggle in Vermont taught a lasting lesson in tolerance that has helped shape national attitudes. The ugliness of the racial violence today is teaching us many things. That our president is a black man of extraordinary sensitivity and intelligence allows this lesson to proceed toward a new level of understanding that should benefit everyone.




The Greenfield Recorder (Mass.), May 5, 2015

Anti-immigration fervor consumes too much energy, especially in Congress.

Having seen legislative efforts stumble or fall short in either keeping undocumented immigrants out or sending home those already here, sights are now set on a higher goal: denying United States birthright citizenship by changing the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

Ratified in 1868, the 14th amendment has its roots in the Civil War and Reconstruction and the status of the freed slaves. With an effort in parts of the country to deny emancipated slaves their rights based on the color of their skin, those working on the amendment saw the need to protect the children of immigrants as well.

As stated in the first section, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Almost 150 years later, two Republican House members have filed bills to correct what they claim is misinterpretation of the amendment. That this amendment, and what it sets forth as the law of the land, has been upheld by the courts throughout the decades does not matter to those rooting out undocumented immigrants. Instead, they rally around the cry of “anchor babies,” based upon the belief that women, who are here illegally, are having babies in the U.S. so as to secure for the child citizenship and for themselves an indefinite stay in the country.

The sponsor of one of the bills, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told the House Judiciary subcommittee that those crafting the 14th Amendment “did not contemplate that anyone who would sneak into the United States and have a baby would have automatic citizenship conferred on them.” King didn’t stop there, though. “I’d suggest it’s our job here in this Congress to decide who will be citizens, not someone in a foreign country that can sneak into the United States and have a baby and then go home with the birth certificate.”

Babies make for particularly inviting targets, especially when relying on xenophobic thinking and hazy anecdotal evidence that feed the anchor baby myth. Parents who are here illegally can be deported, even if their child has been born here. Targeting babies is also easier than comprehensive immigration reform.

We hope that there are enough members of the House and Senate that see altering the 14th Amendment as a waste of time and energy- because there remain too many other matters that require attention.




Dover Foster’s Daily Democrat (N.H), May 6, 2015

The arrival of spring has justifiably been associated with romance, blooming foliage and the start of baseball season. But anyone living north of the Mason-Dixon line knows that something else should be just as closely tied to spring’s arrival: Motorcycle riding.

It is a certainty that first warm weather following a long, dreary winter is going to result in an explosion of motorcycles on the road. Motorcycling is a warm-weather activity for most us, and there is precious little warmth around here between November and April. For riders, that translates to months of frustration as their steeds sit unridden in garages, sheds and motorcycle trailers or under a tarp. Many riders spend the winter polishing, tuning or upgrading their bikes, anxiously anticipating the first day warm enough to ride them.

If you’re not one of estimated 8.5 million motorcyclists in the United States, you probably can’t fully appreciate the joy of rolling onto the road when that day arrives. There’s nothing quite like the sensory experience of riding a motorcycle, and those senses tingle the most on the first ride of the year.

What most riders fail to appreciate, however, is that the first ride of the year also can be the most dangerous. Street corners and intersections are often coated with sand, and sand-covered roads can be treacherous for turning motorcycles.

So can the operators of other vehicles. After seeing almost no motorcycles on the road for 4 to 6 months, drivers aren’t used to the smaller vehicles. When the mind is conditioned to contending with much larger vehicles, it can underestimate the distance to a motorcycle or subconsciously ignore it. “I never saw him” is a common refrain of drivers who plow into motorcyclists.

Finally, months of not riding can diminish the skills required to safely operate a motorcycle. Riding a bike on the street doesn’t demand the balance, coordination and reflexes of, say, riding a skateboard or surfboard. But like any physical activity, rust can develop from months of inactivity. And when you’re the smallest and most vulnerable vehicle on the road, you need all the tools at your disposal to remain safe.

One of those “tools” is a helmet. That statement will no doubt ignite a litany of arguments that helmets are uncomfortable and ineffective. Some will argue that it’s safer riding without a helmet because riders can better see and hear what’s going on around them.

We don’t buy those arguments. And we are convinced that a helmeted motorcyclist who gets into a collision has a better chance of surviving than one who is not wearing a helmet.

But this editorial isn’t intended to further the debate about motorcycle helmets. It’s about riding safely.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that motorcyclists are 30 times more likely to be killed in an accident than car drivers. And according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 88,000 motorcyclists were injured and nearly 4,700 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2013, the last year for which complete statistics are available.

Don’t become one of those statistics in 2015. Remember that your riding skills aren’t sharp yet, and try to ride as if nobody driving a car or truck sees you. And if you’ve never done so- or haven’t done so -in years, please take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (www.msf-usa.org) riding course. It can save you a few bucks on your insurance and may save your life.




The Caledonian Record (Vt.), May 5, 2015

Billionaire George Soros is an outspoken liberal who spends millions supporting big-government, tax-and-spend candidates. One of his recurring mantras is “tax the rich.”

According to an article last week in Bloomberg Business though, Soros doesn’t include himself on the “to tax” list. The 84-year-old super-investor has for years “used a loophole that allowed him to defer taxes on fees paid by clients and reinvest them in his fund, where they continued to grow tax-free,” Bloomberg explains. His tax-duck has netted him approximately $13.3 billion. His $30 billion fortune was built in large measure by Soros’ cunning for avoiding taxes, the article says.

The problem for Soros, beyond the raging hypocrisy, is that Congress closed the Soros loophole in 2008. Immediately before they did, Soros tried to transfer assets out of the United States and into Ireland, where he apparently believed they would be beyond the reach of the United States Treasury.

But the tax man is expected to catch up with Soros soon. Experts anticipate a $6.7 billion bill for the crafty, would-be tax-dodger in the near future. That should please Soros tremendously, given his professed passion for huge government causes and income re-distribution schemes. Congratulations to him.




The Providence Journal (R.I.), May 8, 2015

For two months, debt-ridden Greece has negotiated with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to gain access to $7.8 billion in bailout funds. Having achieved little success, the left-wing government recently shuffled the deck and created a new negotiating team led by Euclid Tsakalotos, an economics professor and junior foreign minister.

It’s hard to know if this shake-up will really make a difference.

The anti-austerity Syriza party, led by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, has refused to play ball with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Greece won’t make all of the requested cuts and reforms, and restructure the country’s debt, to get the money it desperately needs. Greek politicians, meanwhile, have voted for increased spending on welfare, noting that cuts in government spending combined with a sluggish economy have created more poor people.

Greece is in this mess in the first place because it overspent on welfare and public employees while scaring off businesses with high taxes and excessive regulations, starving the golden goose that would fund generous government. While resisting reforms on labor regulations and pensions, Mr. Tsipras wants prosperous Germany to pay Greece World War II reparations, a nonstarter nearly 70 years after Adolf Hitler’s death.

Will Mr. Tsakalotos, a loyal cabinet minister, deviate from this position?

The EU and the IMF are clearly frustrated. They are offering a lifeline to Greece in the form of bailout money to help prevent this EU nation from defaulting. Yet, a small country that badly mismanaged its economy- and put itself in grave political and economic peril -is refusing to accept the deal.

Some see all this as a bluff on Mr. Tsipras’s part, since he knows the EU does not want Greece to default on its loans and break free from the euro, something that would badly damage the whole European Union project. In the past, such fears have helped postpone the day of reckoning, keeping financial support coming while providing additional time to negotiate reforms. If Greece did default, though, its economy would take a painful hit as large companies fled and invested their money elsewhere, making the country even poorer.

Syriza may have to work with the EU and IMF to find a mutually acceptable financial arrangement. Greece surely does not want to be left to its own devices to either sink or swim in some very murky financial waters.




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