- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

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

The Connecticut Post (Conn.), Oct. 24, 2015

True to their words, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both D-Conn., are pressing their tough gun-safety agenda on Capitol Hill.

Wednesday they co-sponsored legislation that would eliminate yet another loophole in the acquisition of a firearm, an exemption that allows the sale of a gun if an otherwise required background check is not completed within 72 hours.

The essence of the bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and 10 other Democrats, is ‘no check, no sale.’

The bill’s official name is the Background Check Completion Act.

The Act would require a completed background check for every gun buyer who purchases a gun from a federally-licensed gun dealer, closing the loophole that has allowed thousands of gun sales to prohibited buyers.

As the law stands now, if a background check on a prospective gun buyer turns up a criminal record, the FBI is asked to determine if the person can legally buy a gun.

If that process takes more than 72 hours, the sale can proceed.

Blumenthal and Murphy said Dylann Roof, the man who shot and killed nine people in a Charleston, S.C. church in June, obtained a gun because of this loophole.

Murphy, speaking at a press conference in Washington this week was absolutely correct when he said, “If it takes an extra day or two to make sure we’re not arming violent offenders, it’s worth the wait.”

After all, what is the hurry?

There simply is no legitimate argument against a thorough background check on a person who wants to buy a lethal weapon.

As exemplified earlier this month, public safety and gun rights are not mutually exclusive.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd District ruled that the states of Connecticut and New York were acting legally in banning semi-automatic so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

As a society, we routinely put limits on various types of behavior in an effort to balance individual rights and public safety.

As we’re noted here before, we can agree that protecting public safety will not be achieved solely through gun control.

More attention and and services need to be directed at mental health, for sure.

The only disappointing note on the new Blumenthal-Murphy initiative is that none of their Republican colleagues signed on in support.

So, in this Republican-controlled Congress, this and any other measure designed to put reasonable safeguards in place when it comes to guns, faces an uphill battle.

But the battle is worth fighting.

It’s only a matter of time before the next mass shooting brings grief to a new community and a new set of families.

Hard work for Blumenthal, Murphy and their supporters lies ahead. We encourage them to stay focused.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1GE531P

The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Oct. 31, 2015

Thanks, science. It’s bad enough that you had to tell us that bacon is almost as bad for us as smoking (we knew it wasn’t health food!), but just a few days before Halloween you tell us that sugar is toxic.

Not only is the main ingredient in candy corn bad for your teeth and packed with calories, it also contributes to type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

The good news, researchers tell us, is that all the obese children in their study who dramatically cut back on their sugar intake saw a dramatic improvement in blood pressure, cholesterol and other health markers after just 10 days.

The doctors who conducted the study replaced the calories that the children would have consumed when they were binging on sweets so they could test if what the soft drink manufacturers claim is true: All calories are created equal and sugary food can be part of a healthy diet.

But the researchers found that some calories are more equal than others. Obese children who cut their sugar intake started getting healthier right away, even though they were eating the same number of calories.

“This study definitively shows that sugar is metabolically harmful not because of its calories or its effects on weight; rather, sugar is metabolically harmful because it’s sugar,” said study author Robert Lustig.

Criticism of the study has already emerged and not just from expected sources like the Sugar Institute and 8-year-olds. The sample was small, they say, and the fact that the children’s health improved when they cut back on sugar doesn’t mean that it was sugar that made them sick. More research is needed, but these results are so explosive that they can’t be easily dismissed.

But don’t blame Halloween. Depending on who’s counting, Americans eat upwards of 75 pounds of sugar a year on a per capita basis, and not even the most dedicated trick-or-treater will ever eat that much in one night.

It’s not an occasional indulgence, but the routine consumption of sugar-rich foods and drinks that contributes to chronic health conditions among children and adults.

So kids, enjoy that annual candy apple; parents, reconsider daily servings of soft drinks and sweet snacks; and science, get back to work on studies like that one where you told us that wine is good for our hearts.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1GE8dCA

The Republican of Springfield (Mass.), Oct. 30, 2015

Brinksmanship can wait. The alarm bell can be placed into storage. There’ll be no more talk of an imminent government shutdown.

When the Senate, in the early hours of Friday morning, approved a two-year budget plan and boosted the debt ceiling, the risk of more foolishness, at least in the near term, was taken off the table. (The House had voted a day earlier.)

It clears the 2016 calendar for, well, for politicking during an election year, but also perhaps for something to get done. Tax reform, anyone?

Maybe, just maybe, with games of chicken over the debt ceiling and the federal budget set aside until 2017, members of Congress can actually take on some of the people’s business. Oh, sure, we understand well that dodging a bullet is far from a guarantee of future health, but still, where things stand today is, by any reasonable measure, a whole lot better than where they’d been just before.

It would be naive, of course, for anyone to believe that members of Congress are all of a sudden going to begin getting along like some happy, idealized family in a TV show about the 1950s. We’ll not soon see the donkey lying down with the elephant. But removing a barrier, especially one that should never have been there in the first place, is always preferable to constantly running up against it.

There’ll be those who’ll continue to criticize the deal, which was hammered out in several weeks of negotiations among congressional leaders and the White House. They’ll say it spends too much. They’ll say it gives too much to President Barack Obama. They’ll fret and fuss that the deal was worked out behind closed doors rather than in congressional meetings. But their words will be so much hooey.

Congress was facing a real deadline. On Nov. 3, the federal government would have run up against its statutory debt limit, meaning that our government would have defaulted on its financial obligations.

Those who don’t understand what that means now have a couple of years to read up on the fundamentals of economics.

Departing House Speaker John Boehner vowed to “clean out the barn” before he headed out the door. The pacts on the budget and the debt ceiling have done just that.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/20imQlH

The Providence Journal (R.I.), Oct. 31, 2015

Many Americans, us among them, have had reservations about President Barack Obama’s July 14 nuclear deal with Iran, which every member of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation supported.

Developing a positive relationship with an old enemy can greatly promote peace and security. That said, it is not wise to trust or strengthen the Iranians, given their conduct.

Alas, a recent episode confirmed why it’s always dangerous to put one’s hopes in a regime such as Iran, whose hard-line religious leaders are fond of chanting “death to America” and threatening to wipe out Israel.

Earlier this month, Iranian state TV announced that a new guided medium-range ballistic missile had been fired. Defense Minister Gen. Hossein Dehghan glowingly told the network that this missile “will obviously boost the strategic deterrence capability of our armed forces.”

This is the first time (to the public’s knowledge, anyway) that Iran has attempted to do something with a ballistic missile since the nuclear deal was signed.

There’s one problem. Iran’s test is a direct violation of a June 9, 2010, U.N. Security Council resolution against this country with respect to nuclear weapons and testing.

According to U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, this missile was “inherently capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.” She brought the matter up with the U.N. Security Council.

Good. We hope the United Nations, as an international body, will take this direct violation seriously.

We shouldn’t be entirely surprised, however, at Iran’s behavior. The country reportedly restarted its controversial uranium enrichment program in 2005. Although its leaders repeatedly deny its existence, a 2011 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency - which reports directly to the United Nations - seemed to show otherwise.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called the nuclear deal “a beginning point” in thawing his country’s relationship with the United States.

That is nice. But it is high time the Iranians stopped developing weapons that could put America and its Western allies in grave danger.

A warning from the United Nations would be helpful.

At the same time, it would have much greater impact coming from Mr. Obama and the White House. We should not trust Iran to do the right thing.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1RFckPd

The Rutland Herald (Vt.), Oct. 31, 2015

Eighty years ago migrants flooded the roadways of America, fleeing poverty, drought and the changes wrought by industrialization.

It was the Dust Bowl migration, when hundreds of thousands of Americans from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and elsewhere piled their belongings into cars and trucks and headed to California where they believed they would find a land of plenty. They were what we call economic migrants.

Today epic migrations are underway again, with millions of people fleeing violence in places as far flung as Syria and El Salvador. Economic migrants, too, are on the road, looking for work in the wealthy nations of Europe and North America.

John Steinbeck told the story of the Dust Bowl in his great novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.” It is a fictional story, but the ways it rings true shine a light on the reality of the migrations occurring today.

The Joad family at the center of Steinbeck’s novel did not cross international borders, so they did not encounter some of the obstacles or raise some of the issues that today’s migrants do. But the reaction of people the Joads met along the way is telling.

The owner of a gas station somewhere out on Route 66 saw the pitiful family - which included grandparents, parents, an uncle, two sons, two daughters and a son-in-law and their belongings packed into an old truck - and had little sympathy. “These –damn Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain’t human. A human being wouldn’t live like they do. A human being couldn’t stand it to be so dirty and miserable.”

The Joads hated being poor, and after days on the road, they hated being dirty. Steinbeck presented them in their full humanity. Their courage and perseverance were evident for anyone who could see. But people couldn’t see. They were afraid, and their fear became political.

“In the West,” Steinbeck wrote, “there was panic when the migrants multiplied on the highways. Men of property were terrified for their property. Men who had never been hungry saw the eyes of the hungry.”

It’s easy to see the suffering of the Dust Bowl migrants as an inevitable outcome of industrialization combined with drought. As tractors replaced tenant farmers, the banks took over the land. Even in California, where the Joads hoped to find a little place of their own, big growers had forced out smaller ones and armies of men were arrayed to crush with violence any stirring of labor unrest.

But if this was an inevitable outcome, it was not enacted impersonally; it was enacted by means of ordinary human cruelty. Banks calling in loans, growers paying starvation wages, strikebreakers clubbing workers into submission - if historic processes are made possible by human cruelty, then it becomes necessary to activate human compassion in response.

The Joads were reduced to living on flour and lard in one end of a boxcar. They had enjoyed temporary refuge in a government camp that was clean, efficient, welcoming and self-governing. But the local powers that be were afraid that treating workers well would give them ideas, leading them to demand more, and so police tried to sabotage the camp. Eventually, the Joads had to leave to look elsewhere for work.

Through it all, Ma Joad, a great literary creation and the grand heroine of the book, came to a grim conclusion: “If you’re in trouble or hurt or need - go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help - the only ones.”

From the comfortable perch of the middle class in the United States or Europe, it’s easy to avert one’s eyes from the human reality of the migrants in our midst or to condemn them as a threat or an alien presence. It’s easy, too, to dismiss or ignore the truth of a fictional literary work from so long ago. But it’s possible for each of us to choose otherwise, to decide which side we are on - the side of cruelty or of compassion.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1NIkEg9

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

It was surely inevitable that one day, federal officials would take steps to regulate the operation of drones. Once a futuristic novelty, these remote-controlled flying devices are now believed to number in the hundreds of thousands in the United States, and the number is expected to surpass 1 million - if it’s not already there - during the upcoming Christmas season.

At the same time, the rapidly growing numbers and the activity that comes with them are raising more and more concerns about safety.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, pilots “have reported seeing drones at altitudes up to 10,000 feet, or as close as half a mile from the approach end of a runway.” Out West, “the presence of multiple” drones near wild fires recently “prompted firefighters to ground their aircraft on several occasions,” out of concern for safety.

Law enforcement officials have done little in the wake of such incidents, because it is difficult - if not impossible - to identify the person or persons responsible.

Clearly, something has to be done.

To that end, federal transportation and aviation officials are creating a task force that will be made up of 25 to 30 people, government and industry officials, pilots and hobbyists. Their mission: make recommendations for a drone registry system, one that is not overly burdensome in terms of what has to be done to register, and one strong enough to cover the sort of craft that can present a danger, while exempting those deemed to present “a low safety risk.”

This latter part is critical. While safety is of the utmost importance as more drones take to the skies, it is also important that a well-intended effort not devolve into blatant overreach that affects the backyard hobbyist who wants to fly a model plane 20 feet above the ground. A good dose of common sense will be needed as the task force makes its recommendations.

We look forward to seeing those recommendations, which are due Nov. 20.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1M7IN0A

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