- Associated Press - Friday, April 28, 2017

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

CONNECTICUT

Republican-American (Waterbury), April 24

The Democrats who cried wolf: President Trump soon may have another chance to nominate a jurist for the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats undoubtedly will object to Mr. Trump’s next nominee, but they will come to regret the hissy-fit they threw over Neil Gorsuch, the president’s first nominee for the high court.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, 80, reportedly is considering stepping down when the Supreme Court’s 2016-17 term ends June 30. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told the Muscatine Journal newspaper, “I would expect a (Supreme Court justice’s) resignation this summer.” ABC News highlighted Sen. Grassley’s comments April 20. Jonathan Karl, chief Washington correspondent, said, “Justice Kennedy has been telling friends and colleagues that he intends to retire this year.” Justice Kennedy, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, has been on the high court since 1988.

Justice Kennedy is a moderate jurist who provides a crucial “swing vote,” especially since his fellow moderate and Reagan appointee Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired in 2006. He “holds enormous power,” The Washington Post reported on May 13, 2007. The New York Times reported in January that Justice Kennedy usually takes a conservative line in cases involving economic matters, while siding with liberal justices on social issues.

It’s hard to imagine Mr. Trump selecting a liberal or moderate jurist to replace Justice Kennedy. Assuming he chooses another conservative, Democrats assuredly will take a hard line after the nomination is placed before the Senate. However, they probably will have difficulty in rallying the American people to their cause.

Democrats, including Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Christopher S. Murphy, began portraying now-Justice Gorsuch as a right-wing extremist soon after Mr. Trump nominated him Jan. 31, and this continued until the full Senate voted on the nomination April 7. This depiction had little basis in reality: as we noted in an April 5 editorial, several prominent liberal attorneys and scholars supported the Gorsuch nomination. Additionally, then-Judge Gorsuch was indisputably qualified for the Supreme Court. He has multiple Ivy League degrees, received unanimous Senate confirmation for his lower-court judgeship, and was deemed “well-qualified” by the American Bar Association.

With their caricaturing of Justice Gorsuch, Democrats have saddled themselves with a credibility problem. It will be difficult to take them seriously when they inevitably portray Mr. Trump’s next Supreme Court nominee as an extremist. In all likelihood, they won’t be able to inspire the masses to demand the president nominate someone with more liberal sensibilities.

For some time, it has been obvious Justice Kennedy’s retirement would open the door to a reshaping of the Supreme Court’s balance of power. In the ultimate irony, Democrats may have cost themselves the chance to influence that balance.

Online:

https://bit.ly/2ppZU7i

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MAINE

Kennebec Journal (Augusta), April 21

Women use birth control for decades of their lives, but missing even one or two doses can cause an unintended pregnancy, with all the life-changing consequences that that entails. A proposal before the Legislature would remove a significant barrier to accessing contraception, and legislators who are committed to the interests of Maine families should support it.

L.D. 1237, sponsored by Rep. Joyce McCreight, D-Harpswell, would allow women who are prescribed birth control to receive up to a 12-month supply before they have to refill their prescriptions. Currently, patients have to go back every one to three months for refills.

If that requirement doesn’t strike you as such a big deal, you’re out of touch with the reality of a lot of women, both in Maine and across the country. One in four women has missed a day’s dose of contraception because she wasn’t able to get a new pack in time, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found in 2011. Among the reasons for the gap: Women are juggling multiple responsibilities - work, school, raising a family. They’re holding down hourly jobs and can’t afford to take the time to get to the drugstore before it closes. They don’t have reliable transportation - a huge barrier in rural states like Maine.

Women in abusive relationships face challenges of their own in accessing birth control. Bent on maintaining control of his wife or girlfriend, Regina Rooney of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence told legislators at (a Tuesday, April 18,) public hearing, an abuser will throw away mail-ordered medication or obsessively monitor even local trips, making it tough for his partner to refill prescriptions every one to three months.

Several other states, including Oregon and California, already have laws in place allowing yearlong contraception prescriptions. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs this approach, too - because it works.

Compared to women who received only a 30- or 90-day supply of birth control, women who received a year’s supply were 30 percent less likely to get pregnant unexpectedly and 46 percent less likely to get an abortion, according to the 2011 UCSF survey. With fewer unintended pregnancies, employer-sponsored insurance plans won’t be spending as much on covering prenatal care, labor and delivery.

L.D. 1237 will go a long way toward enabling responsible family planning, and for that reason, it deserves legislative approval. Though hormonal birth control is safe and effective, it won’t help women unless they have it when they need it.

Online:

https://bit.ly/2qeJH7y

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Republican (Springfield), April 28

Why would anyone want to impose a set of Depression-era regulations on the internet?

That’s the question that members of the anti-net neutrality set seem always to ask. As though it bolsters their argument or something. They act as if simply posing the question should end all discussion.

It’s a forward-thinking concept, one that looks to see that those who are dreaming of the next big thing in some garage somewhere are not forever relegated to obscurity.

Except that it doesn’t. At all.

Just because a framework isn’t exactly new doesn’t make it obsolete.

The same folk who scoff over Depression-era regulations being applied in 2017 are more than likely to revere our nation’s Constitution. That document - think of it as a framework for our entire government - was written in 1787. Imagine how they’d react if someone were to wave away one of their concerns over the constitutionality of one thing or another by arguing that it makes little sense to apply 18th-century rules to 21st-century problems.

Just because something is old doesn’t mean it can no longer apply. (And no, we’re not comparing a set of Federal Communications Commission regulations to the U.S. Constitution; we are merely endeavoring to point out the obvious flaw at the center of a particularly specious argument.)

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has begun the process of rolling back net neutrality regulations. He started the rollback engine in an address on Wednesday(, April 26). It won’t happen quickly, and perhaps not quietly, but it’s what he wants to see happen. And it shouldn’t.

At its heart, the concept of so-called net neutrality is quite simple: All traffic on the internet gets equal treatment. No one gets to pay to jump to the front of the line, slowing others, or making them stand still, while those who’ve paid to play speed happily down the information superhighway.

Your email or your Facebook post is no less important than a big company’s video feed.

This is not some radical concept, foisted on an unsuspecting public by a band of big government activists. It’s how the internet has been working since its creation. And the net neutrality regulations are nothing more than an effort to keep things working for everyone, not only for those who can afford to pay for better treatment.

Unsure of this? Just take a look at who is on which side. Those opposed to the net neutrality rules are mostly the giant internet service providers - AT&T; and Comcast and the like. And those in favor? Google and Facebook and Netflix and countless startups you’ve not yet heard of, but could one day. Though you’ll be less likely to find out about them if net neutrality is abandoned and the cash-poor startups effectively become second-class citizens on the internet.

Seeking to keep the internet as the vital, dynamic entity it’s become isn’t a Depression-era notion. It’s a forward-thinking concept, one that looks to see that those who are dreaming of the next big thing in some garage somewhere are not forever relegated to obscurity.

The internet began neutral, favoring no one. It’s the quintessential democratic notion, as American as freedom of expression. It should remain that way.

Online:

https://bit.ly/2qf00RW

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

Concord Monitor, April 26

Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is the greatest quarterback in football history. That doesn’t exempt him from criticism when it’s warranted.

On Sunday, (April 23,) The Boston Globe ran a story about the relationship between Brady and Best Buddies International, a charity that benefits people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Globe’s Bob Hohler, a former Monitor sports reporter and columnist, wrote: “Since 2011, while Brady has served as the face of its signature Massachusetts fundraiser and helped it raise nearly $20 million, Best Buddies has paid $2.75 million to Brady’s own charitable trust and has pledged to grant the organization an additional $500,000 in 2017 - a total of $3.25 million.” Brady’s Change the World Foundation Trust has given money to his “high school alma mater, his children’s private schools, and charities operated by his football friends,” Hohler wrote.

None of what Hohler reported means Brady is a bad person. There is nothing illegal about the handshake agreement between Brady and Best Buddies, and Brady has been credited with helping to raise $46.5 million for the charity since 2001. It’s the very definition of win-win. To criticize Brady for a lack of “pure altruism,” as the president of Charity Watch did in Hohler’s story, sets an unreasonably high standard. No athlete, no matter how handsome, wealthy or beloved, has to do more than the bare minimum of charity work. That’s a low bar, but it’s one Brady clears with ease.

But try, just for a moment, to separate Brady the hero-athlete from Brady the millionaire philanthropist. The work Brady does for the charity is admirable, but think about the people who donate money with the expectation that it will help some of the “Best Buddies” they meet at fundraisers. What would their reaction be if they found out their $100 went to the University of Michigan or Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo? Maybe all of the beneficiaries of Brady’s Change the World Foundation are great causes, but they were not the causes people believed they were supporting when they wrote a check to Best Buddies.

And there’s a ripple effect. How would you feel as an administrator at Apple Orchard School in Brookline, Massachusetts, where Brady’s children go to school, if you learned that the donation you received from the football star’s foundation was intended for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and not the school’s Sandwich Club?

For Brady, the old saw that no good deed goes unpunished must ring especially true this week. If he can see this situation with the same vision he sees a football field, the next play is obvious: He should tell the charity to skip the next $500,000 payment to his foundation. He should explain, in as much detail as possible, what institutions and programs have benefited from the Change the World Foundation so Best Buddies donors can see what else they supported, directly or indirectly. He should also make sure that from this moment on, the relationship between Change the World and Best Buddies is openly acknowledged. We doubt people will stop giving.

Transparency is the only way to go, and that’s true for all charities.

When you watch Tom Brady play football, it’s easy to forget that he’s human. Sometimes, because he lives his life in a fishbowl like every other celebrity, you find out things that chip away at the myth. You learn, just as you would learn about every person on the planet if they faced the same level of scrutiny, that he is flawed. It can be hard to acknowledge that truth. But if you, the Patriots fan, still find yourself aggressively defending Brady, try this exercise: Pretend Hohler’s story is about Peyton Manning.

Online:

https://bit.ly/2qeqza2

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal, April 25

The steady stream of fallout from Rhode Island’s new health and human services computer system grew more pronounced last week with the revelation that the $364-million project is now the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The target, according to Gov. Gina Raimondo, is not the state but its vendor, Deloitte Consulting, which may have misled state officials about what the company was going to deliver for the tens of millions of dollars it was being paid.

Beyond that, details are scant. What we do know is that investigators cast a wide net last month, asking two state agencies - the Department of Administration and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services - for “all documents” relating to various phases of the project, from the contract with Deloitte to communications during the system’s design and testing to invoices sent and payments made.

The Justice Department’s demands for information state that the investigation “concerns the allegation that false claims for payment for services and/or false statements in support of such payments have been submitted to the federal government.” At the very least, that suggests there are concerns that the U.S. government, which is paying 80 percent of the project’s cost (with state taxpayers picking up the other 20 percent), was billed for work that wasn’t really done.

Given the amount of money involved in this largest-ever state IT project, that is troubling. And while the state may not be the target, the investigation is another reminder of how Rhode Island officials failed to make sure they were up to the task of managing an immense and costly project. In spending those tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, the state should have been in a position at every step to make sure the new computer system, which is supposed to bring all the state’s social service and health exchange records onto one platform, was being designed and built correctly.

As the problems witnessed since the system went live last September make clear, and as reports filed last year by a third-party observer make clear, that did not happen. Of course, Deloitte is obligated to produce a product that works as it should. But the state has a responsibility to make sure taxpayers are getting what they paid for.

Governor Raimondo, who inherited the “Unified Health Infrastructure Project” when she took office in January 2015, and allowed its scope to expand, said in February that fixing the problems that have plagued the system will take at least a year. She also announced that she has new people on the job and was looking to renegotiate the contract with Deloitte.

That is all well and good, and it’s good to hear that the administration is reporting a reduction in pending applications for benefits, which were “down to” 11,638 as of April 2.

But the investigation is one more sign that the problems with this system are serious, and that raises questions. Did taxpayers pay for work that wasn’t done? What will Rhode Island do if it can’t get this system to work properly? Will the state ever see all the millions of dollars in savings the new system was supposed to bring through its efficiencies?

We might be counting our projected savings, rather than asking such questions, if Rhode Island’s leaders had made sure this job was done right.

Online:

https://bit.ly/2qePA4E

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VERMONT

The Caledonian Record (St. Johnsbury), April 28

Former Vermont Governor and presidential hopeful Howard Dean has been busy on Twitter … presumably as part of a campaign to maintain some relevance.

On April 20 he tweeted: “Hate speech is not protected by the first amendment.”

UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh, one of the nation’s leading legal scholars on the First Amendment, offered a prompt and thoroughly documented rebuttal in The Washington Post.

He wrote:

” … There is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn, for instance, Islam - or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal immigrants, or native-born citizens - as one is to condemn capitalism or socialism or Democrats or Republicans … “

“But those who want to make such arguments should acknowledge that they are calling for a change in First Amendment law and should explain just what that change would be, so people can thoughtfully evaluate it. Calls for a new First Amendment exception for ‘hate speech’ shouldn’t rely just on the undefined term ‘hate speech’ - they should explain just what viewpoints the government would be allowed to suppress, what viewpoints would remain protected and how judges, juries and prosecutors are supposed to distinguish the two. And claiming that hate speech is already ‘not protected by the first amendment’ as if one is just restating settled law, does not suffice.”

Volokh’s response is reasonable and measured. Dean’s silly tweet reflects his ignorance of not only constitutional law, but also of the very principle of First Amendment freedom itself.

Online:

https://bit.ly/2qeoPgJ


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