- Associated Press - Saturday, April 30, 2016

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

The Providence Journal (R.I.), April 29, 2016

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican, was subjected to a scathing denunciation before his sentencing this week on a charge of illegally structuring bank transactions. Bypassing the matter technically at hand, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas M. Durkin assailed Hastert as a “serial child molester” who had manipulated federal investigators.

Hastert, 74, received 15 months in prison, despite his lawyers’ pleas that he be placed on probation instead. The former speaker has recently endured several illnesses, and appeared in court in a wheelchair.

The case against him began with a series of large bank withdrawals in 2010. Investigators became suspicious when, after questioning, he suddenly reduced the amounts, apparently to elude bank-reporting laws. Eventually, it became clear that Hastert was attempting to buy the silence of a young man he had allegedly abused. Since he was criminally charged last year, others on the wrestling team he coached during the 1960s and ‘70s have come forward to accuse him of assault. However, the statutes of limitations on his alleged acts have expired.

Dennis Hastert’s life followed an unlikely trajectory from popular small-town figure to speaker of the House, one of the highest offices in the land. En route, he led his Yorkville, Ill., wrestling team to a state championship, served in the state legislature and was elected to Congress. In 1999, his Republican colleagues saw the genial Midwesterner as a safe and steady choice for speaker. He held the top post longer than any other GOP politician, resigning shortly after Republicans lost the House in 2006.

In court, he at first offered broad but evasive apologies to his accusers. But under close questioning by Judge Durkin, he eventually admitted to acts of sexual abuse. One victim, known in the case as Individual A, recently filed suit, saying Hastert still owes him $1.8 million.

It remains unclear how many people may have been victimized by Hastert during his coaching years. But his decision to pursue a political career suggests how little thought he gave to the possibility of being caught. His downfall has shocked friends and colleagues, and turned the town of Yorkville against him. Whatever comfort it brings his victims may be too little, too late.

Hastert’s story adds a sad chapter to a tragedy in which too many have been harmed. Fortunately, the era when sexual abuse was routinely repressed is slowly giving way. The most that can be hoped is that Hastert’s case will further awareness, and prevent other young people from being victimized by trusted adults.




The Concord Monitor (N.H.), April 29, 2016

The professional football draft is under way. As with all things NFL, it’s a shiny spectacle with intriguing plotlines and twists. Breathless coverage makes it the sports equivalent of a soap opera, and dedicated fans devour and digest each selection. They cheer, groan and taunt as if one pick alone will determine a team’s fate for the next season and beyond.

Over the three days of coverage, commentators will talk about spectacular first-round busts (remember Ryan Leaf?) and late-round steals (Tom Brady in the sixth?) in league history. They will share tales of old gridiron gladiators and their on-field heroism, and suggest that any of the names now being read by Roger Goodell or some other league executive could soon be part of the lore. Thread after mythical thread will be woven into the sport’s narrative tapestry. There will be little room for talk of concussions or domestic assault, bogus scandals or rampant greed.

A war on football is warranted- not to destroy the game but to crack its veneer. The warrior tales told and retold to exalt the sport too often glorify the human cost- the life-destroying price paid by brain-damaged and hobbled athletes.

Most fans of the game are aware of the concussions, but that hasn’t kept them from buying tickets or watching games on TV. Fox, for example, drew an average of nearly 21 million viewers across its slate of games. The network told Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated that its most watched NFL seasons have all come in the past seven years. The story is similar for the other networks that air NFL games. What does the NFL receive from the networks, combined, for granting them the privilege of broadcasting games? About $3.1 billion a year.

The players get paid, too, and handsomely- although the paycheck is hard-won.

Last season, according to PBS’s Frontline, NFL players suffered a combined 271 concussions in practices, preseason games and regular season games, a nearly 32 percent increase over the 2014 season. The list of deceased former players diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease linked to concussions, is growing, too: Ken Stabler, Frank Gifford, Junior Seau, Mike Webster, Earl Morrall, Ralph Wenzel and Dave Duerson are among them. The list will keep growing.

Thurman Thomas, a gifted running back with the Buffalo Bills who played 13 seasons in the NFL, seems destined to join them. Not yet 50, Thomas battles mood swings and memory loss. He recently had to pull over on the highway to call his wife, he told CBSSports.com, because he didn’t know where he was or what he was doing. Sadly, the story is becoming a common one among former players.

It’s hard to imagine things will get better soon, even with improved padding and concussion protocols, because players keep getting bigger and faster. An NPR report from 2013 determined that in the earliest years of the NFL, the average lineman was 6 feet tall and 190 pounds, and they made tackles with about 970 pounds of force. Linemen now average 6 feet, 5 inches and 310 pounds, and can unleash approximately 1,700 pounds of force. Every hit, as running back Reggie Bush said, is like a car crash.

We expect that the NFL will continue to do what’s best for the brand even as former greats like Thomas suffer as they fade. It’s a business. But more and more fans are bound to feel like Deitsch, of Sports Illustrated, who wrote: “I felt both enthralled and guilty at the same time as I watched the carnage in front of me. I wanted to look away. I could not look away.” Eventually, fans will look away- or threaten to. Then and only then will the league truly do all it can to protect and care for the men who battle on the field of play.




The (Springfield) Republican (Mass.), April 29, 2016

If you missed Donald Trump’s much-hyped foreign policy address on Wednesday- billed as a pivot from his usual incendiary campaign rhetoric toward a new kind of presidential seriousness -don’t fret. Because you didn’t miss anything of note.

True, some of the bluster was gone. But the usual incoherence was there in full force.

Trump wants America to disengage with the rest of the world. Except when he doesn’t. He wants our nation, which has always stood as a rock upon which others could depend, to become chaotic.

His overarching principle, he said, would be to put “America first.”

When that mantra was last in vogue, back in the 1930s, it was used by isolationists who argued that the United States should not get involved in World War II. Had their view won the day, America as we know it might no longer exist. The land of the free and the home of the brave could be but a distant memory, perhaps overrun by people speaking German.

Even as Trump would wish to disengage and effectively turn our backs on our longstanding allies, he believes we need to somehow connect with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Oh, and he wants to start a trade war with China.

And did we mention that he’d seek to build up our nation’s military as never before? While that might be a rational goal if one had some plans for that military, it makes little sense when you are arguing at the same time that America should be disengaging. What, one might reasonably wonder, would this beefed-up military be doing?

In a modern presidential primary campaign, the candidate who can control the news cycle on any given day is at an obvious advantage. While Trump has often been masterful at this, he didn’t quite get the job done with his Wednesday morning address.

Why? Because Texas Sen. Ted Cruz stole some of his thunder when he announced in the afternoon that he’d choose businesswoman Carly Fiorina as his running mate.

Suddenly, Trump’s address played second fiddle.

Which served as an unanticipated boon for Trump. Because shining a real spotlight on what he had to say would have revealed just how shallow was his vision, how contradictory his world view, how incoherent his plans.




The Brattleboro Reformer (Vt.), April 26, 2016

President Barack Obama’s decision to send 250 more military advisers to Syria to assist in the fight against ISIS may prove beneficial. Any escalation, however, should make Americans wary.

An increase in military advisers in Vietnam eventually led to full-scale war there. The disastrous Iraq War put an end to American interventionism for the foreseeable future, but mission creep is always a concern, even if it only involves going from 50 to 250 soldiers in this case.

Congress ostensibly has a role in foreign military operations, but Republican leadership in the House and Senate has made it clear that it will do nothing, including consider a formal declaration of war against ISIS, that will put it on the record. It is so much easier to second-guess the president and lecture from the sidelines than it is to take a stand and perhaps contribute.

Just as ISIS took advantage of chaos in Iraq to grow into a deadly force, it has taken advantage of the civil war in Syria between President al-Assad and rebel forces to expand its reach there. The US and its allies have reversed some ISIS gains in recent months, and the additional advisers may lead to more victories, but if the cease-fire in the civil war collapses, as seems imminent, it will be impossible to eradicate ISIS entirely.




The Kennebec Journal (Maine), April 28, 2016

The children of incarcerated parents lose a mom or a dad for the length of their sentence, but it doesn’t stop there.

Once the sentence is over, and after the child has endured the separation and disruption that came with it, the parent still has to face the stigma, loss of income and loss of opportunity that result from their time behind bars. Those effects can linger for years, and as much as they keep the parent from moving forward, they often also condemn the child to an early life of instability and poverty, ensuring that the effects will echo even longer.

It’s a cycle that cannot go unaddressed in Maine, where in 2011-12 roughly 1 in 12 children had at least one parent who was incarcerated at some point during their childhood. That’s the highest rate in New England, and the 14th highest nationally, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Nationally, the number of children with incarcerated parents has, not surprisingly, soared along with incarceration rates. From 1980 to 2000, there was a 500 percent increase in the number of kids with a father in prison or jail, driven largely by tough sentencing guided by drug-war policies.

More recently, those policies have been affecting women caught up in the opiate crisis- women make up a bigger proportion of the prison population than ever.

In Maine, the one women’s prison, in Windham, has grown from fewer than 80 inmates in September 2014 to a daily average of 135 now, with another 70 or so women in a pre-release facility in Alfred.

That has left a lot of kids without at least one parent, putting pressure on the remaining parent- if he is involved -and grandparents to provide a home, guidance and the basic necessities short a major source of income. It has forced the adults left in the child’s life to balance child care and employment. Often, it forces the child to move again and again as those arrangements are sorted out.

The various pressures and challenges push families further into impoverishment. One study cited in the report found that the U.S. poverty rate would have fallen by 20 percent in one 24-year period were it not for the increase in incarceration.

And once the parent’s sentence is over, new problems arise. They often have court fines, legal fees and accumulated child support to pay, and a new life to start, but their conviction makes it difficult to find a job, and the time apart- and whatever behavioral problems caused it -can make it difficult to reconnect.

The Maine Department of Corrections said it has in the last few years initiated new programs to help women in prison stay connected to families, including peer-parenting groups and the availability of online video chatting between inmates and their children.

But, as the Casey Foundation report suggests, additional supports are necessary to make sure children are being adequately taken care of, and inmates are receiving the training and education they’ll need when they are released.

Maine also has to continue to reform sentencing and bail guidelines so that parents are not unnecessarily incarcerated when alternatives exist to keep their family intact.

And, of course, better access to drug treatment and a continuation of the good work being done with juvenile offenders would help keep Mainers out of jail in the first place.

It should be the goal to reduce the use of prisons and jails, and use the savings on community-based treatment, housing and re-entry support.

Maine should also join the “ban the box” movement. Twenty-three states, as well as federal agencies, do not allow employers- with some exceptions -to ask about criminal convictions on the initial employment application. That would keep employers from dismissing out of hand applicants with criminal records, denying them an opportunity to showcase their skills and potential.

When too many people are incarcerated, and too little is done to help transition them back into society, the cost is enormous. When children are involved, the cost increases exponentially, and right now, Maine is paying that price far too often.




The Day (Conn.), April 30, 2016

It’s very hard to help a horde; it’s a lot easier to connect when looking at someone’s suffering face.

Pope Francis followed that basic human psychology when he took three Syrian refugee families back with him to Rome after his recent trip to Greece. Yes, he called attention to the political problem of huge numbers of refugees being detained or shipped back to Turkey, but he also made it personal, thus offering a challenge to anyone who could help even one other person.

Picture a young Muslim family walking out of the gates of a refugee camp that has held them in for months. Think how glad they were even for that dismal shelter after being bombed and hungry in Damascus. Now imagine them feeling the sidewalks of Rome- or the grass of Ledyard -under their feet.

Look at the person, not the label, has been a major theme of this pope’s ministry. At Lesbos, Greece, earlier this month, he and two leaders of Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos, demonstrated that a concern for the suffering of millions of refugees is what matters- not whether they are Christian, Muslim or neither.

Last year Francis urged every Catholic parish in Europe to take in a refugee family, and in Greece he praised the local citizens of Lesbos who have rescued and fed and helped the immigrants literally washing up on their shores.

Caring citizens and faith communities in southeastern Connecticut have taken up the challenge and expect to welcome families beginning next week. Their good will and hard work will give these displaced souls a new home.

That’s just the start, and it won’t be easy. If it were, the JFK Library Foundation would not have given Gov. Dannel P. Malloy a John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award for welcoming refugee programs when other governors refused them. Malloy will be presented with the award Sunday.

It won’t be easy for family breadwinners who must learn English, get a driver’s license and find a job as fast as possible. Nor will it be easy for the immigrant children who don’t speak English and have been out of school for many months. Some in the local Muslim community worry about the reception the children will find among their new classmates. Schools will need to prepare their students, and parents can set a good example of kindness and welcome. Still, there will be fearful people who think it would be safer to turn the refugees away.

The organizers of the local efforts say they don’t focus on such fears. Each family that arrives here will first be vetted for admission to the United States. In time, they will be familiar faces in Old Lyme, Ledyard, New London, Waterford and other towns.

Faith communities, civic organizations and academic institutions that haven’t stepped up to help can still do so. The organization IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services), based in New Haven, is coordinating many of the efforts.

Pope Francis’ example is a reminder that Christians, Jews and Muslims are called by their faiths to welcome the stranger, one soul at a time.




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