- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

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

The Providence Journal (R.I.), April 9, 2016

Roughly six years after it was physically stanched, the BP oil spill came to a quiet official conclusion last week. On Monday, a federal judge in New Orleans gave final approval to a settlement estimated at $20.8 billion. Of that amount, $5.5 billion consists of penalties under the Clean Water Act. Much of the rest will be spent on compensation and repairs for environmental damage. Some will go toward reimbursing government costs.

In 2010, millions of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico following a drilling-rig explosion that killed 11 workers. Under the settlement with BP, five Gulf states and numerous local governments will receive payments over the next dozen years. The funds will enable them to ramp up vital restoration work in coastal areas.

The Justice Department has described the agreement, initially announced last July, as the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history.



For a long-suffering region of the country, the settlement’s clearing of the way for environmental repairs is certainly a great step forward. Many Americans well recall scenes of soiled beaches, damaged fisheries and injured wildlife. Hotels, restaurants and related businesses suffered as tourists stayed away for months. Under a separate but uncapped 2012 agreement, BP continues to settle claims from business owners and residents who say they were harmed.

Yet only a handful of BP employees were criminally charged in the spill; they were either acquitted or received light punishment. The company itself paid $4 billion in criminal penalties tied to the rig workers’ deaths. But for the most part, individuals were not held accountable.

While the amount of the final settlement appears satisfactory, and sufficient to cover substantial restoration efforts, taxpayers nevertheless have grounds for dismay. BP will be allowed to write off nearly $15.3 billion of the settlement costs. In other words, the oil giant will enjoy a tax deduction for what the U.S. District judge in the case, Carl Barbier, has declared to be “gross negligence.”

The Justice Department can deny such breaks in the course of structuring agreements with corporate wrongdoers, and has sometimes done so. Too many taxpayers already feel that the system rewards well-heeled players at the expense of ordinary people. Knowing that they will soon be, in effect, subsidizing a penalty for the reckless acts of BP is not likely to sit well.

Others maintain that the Justice Department could have held out for an even bigger settlement.

Still, it is good to get this matter settled, and get this large amount of money out to compensate for economic losses and provide environmental restoration. Surely, this settlement - on top of the devastating damage to BP’s reputation - should serve as a powerful warning to those drilling in the ocean. They must take all precautions to prevent such a disaster from recurring.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1Q0uZSE

The Nashua Telegraph (N.H.), April 6, 2016

On March 22, hours after three bombs shattered the early morning calm for travelers at Brussels Airport and commuters at the Maalbeek metro station, mourners gathered outside the city’s stock exchange in an expression of loss - but also resilience.

There, they hugged and wept, wondering how this could happen again. They placed tea light candles and flowers in honor of the victims. One woman even broke into song, as those around her applauded and wrote messages like “Spread love” in pastel chalk on the sidewalk.

Karien Fouwels, a 47-year-old account director, brought her daughter Chiraz, 13, to light a candle at the vigil.

“We can’t stop living just because of some monstrous idiots who are driven by ideology,” Fouwels told The Associated Press. “That’s why we bring coffee to soldiers. Why we bring flowers to vigils. Again and again.”

“It has to be a lesson for my little girl,” she said. “That she learns … never to be scared.”

Yet that very day, people around the world were putting their European travel plans on hold out of fear. Airbnb allowed people to opt out of their Brussels reservations without cancellation fees. And travel stocks dipped across the board, from airlines and hotels to booking websites and travel agencies.

To top it all off, the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert for the entirety of Europe, effective through June 20. It warned that “terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants, and transportation.”

As dire as this all sounds, it is imperative that we don’t let fear-mongering groups like the Islamic State win by being terrorized, by being scared into never leaving our home. As Washington Post columnist Andrew Shaver wrote just after November’s Paris attacks, you’re more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist.

For those still planning trips to Europe, USA Today put together a list of tips to stay safe. Among them:

Make a plan: Know what you’ll do in the event of an attack. In addition to notifying the State Department, let a friend or relative know where you’ll be.

Pack what’s important: Carry your emergency contact information, money, credit cards, signed passport and emergency information in your carry-on luggage and keep it with you at all times.

Avoid targets and practice the art of blending: Wear muted colors. Don’t stand out and make yourself an easy target. And avoid large gatherings of people. Those include large public events and festivals where a terrorist could cause havoc.

European travel expert Rick Steves, who has written guidebooks about visiting the continent since 1979 and hosted “Rick Steves’ Europe” on PBS since 2000, chimed in on his Facebook page after the State Department’s alert.

“This is a travel ‘alert,’ not a ‘warning,’?” he wrote. “The State Department reserves ‘warnings’ for serious business: It means, essentially, ‘Don’t go there.’ But an ‘alert’ just means ‘Be careful.’

“As the State Department recommends, while you’re traveling, be vigilant. Be aware. Exercise caution. But at the same time, don’t be terrorized. That’s exactly the response the terrorists are hoping for.”

As Steves says at the close of each TV program, “Keep on traveling.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1MmnGdo

The (Springfield) Republican (Mass.), April 6, 2016

The cell phone has evolved into an entire person’s life in miniature, with not just the ability to communicate in countless ways but shop, snap photos and a myriad of other applications.

It was probably only a matter of time before weaponry was next. If sensible heads prevail, that time has not arrived, and never should.

Kirk Kjellberg’s idea is the Ideal Conceal Pistol, which resembles a mobile phone but contains a trigger and two barrels. Whatever else this creation might be, it’s anything but ideal.

There’s no doubt that frightened Americans who think life must be lived at the point of a gun will flock to this invention. Rational people will understand the obvious danger of this idea, and hopefully rational lawmakers will, too.

“This is for law-abiding citizens, not criminals,” said Kjellberg, a Minnesota native. Tell that to the criminals, and tell that to police who must already make instant decisions regarding immediate threat, and cannot possibly be expected to distinguish a phone from a gun if they look the same.

Tell that to cell phone owners who misplace their devices. That happens all the time. Tell that to kids who might innocently wind up playing with loaded weapons.

Kjellberg’s empty comment about the device posing no danger as long as owners follow current gun-carrying laws is not just wrong, it’s insulting. It ignores the dangers involved with flooding everyday society with more weaponry, and dismisses the potential life-ending confusion created by this invention.

Kjellberg sees a market from people “who want to make a priority of protecting themselves.” Doing it this way is not a priority, it’s an unhealthy obsession that puts everyone at risk.

In the current gun-totin’ climate infecting much of America, Kjellberg’s idea will probably be endorsed by gun advocates as well as free-market cheerleaders who think his invention deserves a reward. It’s hard to believe Kjellberg is doing this solely for the betterment of society, not when he sees handsome profit on the horizon as well.

That doesn’t change the fact this is a dangerous, unnecessary idea. We should be finding ways to make America safer, not more dangerous. This isn’t one of them.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1Vdmgp0

Caledonian Record (Vt.), April 9, 2016

In Nigeria last week, 800 women were “freed” from their Boko Haram captors after years in sexual slavery and brutal captivity. A Washington Post report Monday said, upon their return, they were shunned and scorned by society. The women, and the children they bore while imprisoned, are being blamed for having been kidnapped, beaten and raped every day by terrorists.

A continent away, migrants from war-torn Middle-Eastern countries are being rounded up in Europe and shipped to Turkey - a nation with an abysmal record on human rights. The government there agreed to “handle” the migrants in exchange for $6 billion and various other concessions from the European Union. The lives of these migrants - who were stripped of everything and forcibly expelled from their country by the ravages of war - are likely to remain unimaginably arduous for some time.

Meanwhile, drug-related violence continues to claim approximately 150 lives a month in the Tierra Caliente valley of Mexico. El Salvador, similarly, endured 2,000 murders in the past three months as violent gangs abduct and behead police and their rivals. For its part, the government stands accused of running its own death squads.

In the United States, the most pressing concerns yesterday (as extrapolated from Google search term trends) were American Idol, Wrestlemania and National Beer Day. The most heated public debate is over who should be allowed to use what public restroom, and why.

That’s not to diminish the “urgency” of our cultural bathroom conundrums. It’s just a reminder to us to be mindful of our blessings and thankful that our daily woes don’t include mortar shells, kidnappings, beheadings, starvation, chained bondage, torture and gang rape.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1S2Jp9o

The Berkshire Eagle (Mass.), April 4, 2016

The concept of “one person, one vote” has long been a cherished one in the United States, and on Monday an unusually united U.S. Supreme Court solidified it.

Two residents in Texas had argued that in drawing legislative boundaries to create districts with roughly equal populations, states should count the voting population, not the total population. This was widely interpreted as an effort to dilute strong Democratic districts by weeding out voter blocs, in Texas’ case Hispanics, that traditionally have low voter registration.

Revealingly, the two Texans were represented before the Supreme Court by the Project on Fair Representation, one of those increasingly common organizations whose title is the antithesis of what they advocate. This group was behind a challenge to the Voting Rights Act that led to its gutting by a narrow vote of the Supreme Court three years ago.

In this case, even the court’s four conservatives, down from five because of the death of Judge Antonin Scalia, would have none of it. The concept of “one person, one vote” means that everyone, regardless of their age, legal status, voting history, and so on, is represented by their elected officials. It’s a basic principle that until Monday the top Court in the land had not weighed in on definitively.

Writing for the unanimous Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared that “Adopting voter-eligible apportionment as constitutional command would upset a well-functioning approach to districting that all 50 states and countless local jurisdictions have followed for decades, even centuries.” Judge Ginsburg added that the challengers “have shown no reason for the court to disturb the long-standing use of total populating.” In short, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

The “reason,” of course, was political mischief. There will be plenty of that in the months ahead, as there was in 2012, when Republican officials in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio tried to enact voting laws supposedly addressing non-existent “fraud” that were instead designed to keep blacks, Hispanics, the poor and other likely Democratic voters away from the polls. The courts shot down these efforts for the most part and they will have to be vigilant again.

In her decision, Judge Ginsburg got to the essence of “one person, one vote” when she wrote that “Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates, and in receiving constituent services.” They do have that stake - and voters also have an important stake in getting to the polls without politically motivated interference. It is incumbent upon the legal system to assure that they are able to in this heated national election year.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1WjZGKk

(Meriden) Record-Journal (Conn.), April 7, 2016

Marriage equality is the law of the land, but opponents of same-sex unions are not going away quietly.

Over the past several days, two governors signed into law so-called religious freedom bills, which - all sugarcoating aside - make discrimination against members of the LGBT community legal.

Of course, those governors, Pat McCrory of North Carolina, and Phil Bryant of Mississippi, feign shock at such a notion, but the bills are what they are.

In Mississippi, the legislation prevents state government from punishing people who refuse to provide services to others because of a religious opposition to same-sex marriage, extramarital sex or transgender people.

And in North Carolina, the new law mandates that all bathrooms at state facilities be separated by sex as assigned at birth, and prohibiting local governments from creating their own anti-discrimination ordinances.

The blowback against McCrory and Bryant from both the business community and laypeople has been intense, and rightfully so.

Gov. Dannel Malloy jumped into the fray as well, signing an executive order banning state-funded travel to North Carolina.

Commenting on his decision - just days before Mississippi followed North Carolina’s lead and okay-ed its own anti-LGBT law - Connecticut’s governor said: “When we see discrimination and injustice, we have to act. This law is not just wrong, it poses a public safety risk to Connecticut residents traveling through North Carolina … This law endangers the welfare not just of North Carolina’s citizens, but of all people visiting that state.”

Malloy continued, “We need to do what we can to stand up and act against laws that encourage - as a matter of public policy - discrimination and endangerment of our citizenry. It’s unacceptable, and Connecticut is acting.”

While Malloy’s gesture is largely symbolic, his message is an important one: Bigotry, no matter how cleverly disguised, is still bigotry.

Recently, another religious freedom bill, this one in Georgia, made its way to the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal, and he, wisely, vetoed it.

Deal said, “If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should heed the ‘hands-off’ admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution.

“I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia.”

Amen to that.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1SWqbSU

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