Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers:
The Day (Conn.), Jan. 18, 2017
President Barack Obama prepares to leave office with his highest approval ratings since the early days of his presidency, including a 60 percent approval number in a new CNN/ORC poll. It appears many Americans, in comparing the outgoing president with the man who will replace him, are seeing their leader for the past eight years with more favorable eyes. Many would prefer he were staying put.
The nation will miss his graciousness, strength of character, and calm demeanor in stressful circumstances. Obama’s smile and good humor brightened the White House.
Almost forgotten, sometimes, is how bad things were when the former senator from Illinois, then aged 47, took the oath of office. The country was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month, the stock market was in freefall, the GDP shrinking, while millions faced foreclosure and a depression appeared to be a distinct possibility.
The nation avoided the worst. General Motors survived. The stock market has roared back. The nation has experienced a record 73 consecutive months of job growth, with unemployment dipping to 4.9 percent and U.S. GDP growth far outpacing that of Europe.
For many working-class Americans, however, the recovery has been meager or non-existent, with good-paying, blue-collar manufacturing jobs lost to both technological advances and the outsourcing of work to other countries with cheap labor. This, too, is the Obama legacy.
History will be the judge whether Obama made the right calculation when, early in his presidency, he fought to push through a government program to expand health care to uninsured Americans. His Democratic Party controlled the House and Senate.
Universal health care had long been a Democratic aspiration. Obama feared that if he waited, the chance to obtain this goal might permanently pass. Yet the president, who saw his approval ratings plummet, and his party expended tremendous political capital in pushing the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010 without a single Republican vote. It was complex legislation, taking several years to roll out. It contained the necessary, controversial and, in the opinion of many, un-American mandate that citizens had to obtain health insurance or face penalties.
Imperfect as it may be, 20 million have gained health insurance through the ACA.
Democrats would not again control Congress during the Obama presidency. Republicans have had great success running against “Obamacare” and pledging to repeal it. Now fully in control in Washington, Republicans face the formidable challenge of coming up with a health care law to replace it that doesn’t throw millions off health insurance or spike costs.
On foreign policy, the Obama administration was one of contradictions. Obama decried the holding of prisoners, captured during terrorist roundups after the 9-11 attacks, without trial at Gitmo. Yet the president never achieved his goal of closing the prison. Meanwhile, his aggressive drone program killed hundreds of alleged enemy combatants, and others caught in the crossfire, without any due process.
Troops remain in Afghanistan, long after Obama planned to have them home. Under his watch, the promise of an Arab Spring deteriorated into the horror that is the Islamic State. An aggressive Russia annexed Crimea in Ukraine. China sought to intimidate its neighbors by utilizing man-made islands to expand its nautical territory, in violation of international law.
Yet Obama kept the United States out of any new wars. His reopening of relations with Cuba holds promise for a brighter future for that country. The junta once controlling Myanmar (Burma) peacefully acceded to Democratic reforms, aided by a U.S. diplomatic push. The U.S. led the way to an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The biggest disappointment of the Obama presidency is that political divisions deepened during his time in office, though he was elected in 2008 on a vision of moving past partisanship. Much blame goes to Republicans and their strategy of denying the charismatic young president any legislative victories. But Obama does not escape culpability. It was his challenge to find a path to bipartisan cooperation on key issues. He failed.
Many of his accomplishments rest on executive orders and memos. They include allowing undocumented immigrants brought here as children to emerge from the shadows and seek a higher education and jobs; using environmental rules to reduce greenhouse emissions; expanding the reach of federal gun regulations; and mandating a higher minimum wage for federal contractors.
The weakness is obvious. His successor can undo the orders and promises to do so.
Obama was a president of consequence, having steered the country out of the Great Recession and signed the ACA into law. In success and failure, through triumphs and tragedies, he served with grace and integrity. The Day is proud to have twice endorsed him for president.
The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Jan. 18, 2017
The governor of Maine is an ignorant man. This is not news.
The man who said Tuesday that civil rights hero John Lewis should say “thank you” to white people for ending slavery is the same person who said last year that black drug dealers who impregnate “white girl(s)” were mainly responsible for the state’s opioid problem.
This is the same man who was in office for less than a month before telling the NAACP that it could “kiss my butt” if it didn’t like him skipping the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast.
We would like to ignore him, but we can’t. Even when he’s just running his mouth on talk radio, he’s our governor. We all suffer from guilt by association if we don’t speak up.
Gov. LePage takes great offense at being called racist because he claims to have no personal bias against people based on the color of their skin. We can’t know what’s in his heart, but we do have enough evidence to draw other conclusions from his repeated racially charged comments.
Racial prejudice is no small thing to be wrong about. It’s one of the fault lines of our society. Failing to build unity in a culturally diverse society is what will make or break this country. A public official who deepens the divide does damage to us all.
But the governor is consistently wrong about race and when he is confronted with it, he offers half-baked history lessons. As usual, in his telling, he’s the victim.
“The blacks, the NAACP (paint) all white people with one brush,” LePage said. “To say that every white American is a racist is an insult. The NAACP should apologize to the white people, to the people from the North for fighting their battle.”
If the NAACP said that all white people were racist they must have whispered it in LePage’s ear, because it’s not in any of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization’s public statements.
But the governor does not stop there. He goes on to suggest that living in a state that fought for the Union in the Civil War allows him to say with impunity whatever comes into his head.
He wants all white Northerners to get collective credit for the sacrifice made by civil rights workers like Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who were murdered while registering black voters in 1964, but he’s not willing to accept that there was any collective harm done to millions of African-Americans by 400 years of slavery, segregation and lynching.
There is no political cost in Maine to this type of wrongheadedness because, judging from their silence, most Maine Republicans and some Democrats and independents think he’s right. Still, the governor has once again embarrassed his state on a national stage.
You can expect there to be an economic price to pay by companies that are trying to recruit students and professionals to make Maine their home, or by economic development agencies trying to entice entrepreneurs to relocate.
But even that does not match the human cost that will be paid by ordinary Maine people, like an African-American mother who has to put her child to sleep at night knowing that her governor thinks he deserves “a simple thank you” from people like her because her baby is not in chains.
We’ll all be paying for his ignorance for a long time.
The Patriot Ledger (Mass.), Jan. 13, 2017
A series of three reports this past week indicate that we as a nation have a long way to go in terms of creating trust between law enforcement officials and those they serve. One statistic found that the number of police officers killed in the line of duty rose sharply in 2016, while another noted that the number of citizens killed by police again topped 1,000. Hopefully, these numbers will not provoke additional animosity, but rather desperately needed discussion about what can be done to reduce both statistics.
The Guardian, a British newspaper that has kept tabs on deaths in U.S. police custody for the past two years, found that the numbers have improved slightly, dipping from 1,146 to 1,085. That slight reduction, however, is little cause for celebration. The Guardian began creating its comprehensive data base last year after it discovered that there was no such list being maintained by U.S. authorities, a problem that has yet to be rectified. The fact that a newspaper in England has a better grasp on such facts than our own government should produce a certain degree of shame.
The Washington Post, which uses different criteria, found that deaths involving police officers went from 991 in 2015 to 957 in 2016. In both years, however, nearly 25 percent of those who were killed suffered from mental illnesses, and a disproportionate number of those killed were African American. In fact, African-American males were three times as likely to be killed by police as white males.
Similarly unsettling is the number of police officers who were killed in the line of duty this past year. According to The Associated Press, 135 officers died in the line of duty, with 64 of those dying of gunshot wounds, a 56 percent increase when compared with those killed in similar incidents the previous year. Not surprisingly, this has prompted a great deal of fear and soul searching among law enforcement officials, with some departments that have been directly affected by attacks reporting high retirement rates and elevated levels of stress.
Although all of these numbers remain obscenely high, there are signs of efforts to reduce the tension between police and those they are sworn to serve. Many police departments are requiring that their officers wear body cameras, providing video documentation of encounters with the public. Some departments are also implementing new training programs for officers, emphasizing techniques that use nonlethal force, when possible, to defuse dangerous situations.
Still, it may be years before these changes provide tangible, measurable benefits, as it often takes time for fundamental policy shifts to take root. In the interim, it is incumbent on police to work in all parts of the community - business, religious and minority groups- to rebuild the sense of public trust that many feel has been violated after years of discriminatory practices. This is not to say that all police have engaged in such behavior. Far from it. The majority of officers get up every day, put their lives on the line with the sole purpose of protecting and serving all members of their community. But just as a few individuals of any organization can alter the perception of that group, the actions of a relatively small number of police officers can destroy the goodwill generated by the hard work of thousands of others.
So what can be done to change this dark and violent collision course?
First, the FBI must commit to recording more accurate numbers when it comes to those killed by police. In a nation where data drives everything, it is unconscionable that our government does not require such basic information from every police department in the country.
Second, law enforcement must continue to make community policing and outreach a focus of their efforts, opening dialogues and fomenting partnerships with their various constituencies. This may mean listening to a lot of anger and resentment, especially in communities with a history of police violence.
Finally, local leaders must also be prepared to do their part, working to build bridges between their communities and law enforcement, helping to develop the bonds of trust that will hopefully lead to all of these numbers moving in the right direction. We’ve already seen some such efforts, but they need to proliferate in the new year.
The Providence Journal (R.I.), Jan. 14, 2017
On Friday, an event that would have seemed inconceivable to most people a year ago is set to take place, with the inauguration of Donald Trump as America’s 45th president.
An unusual degree of angst surrounds this peaceful transfer of power that has been part of the American tradition for well over two centuries. Some of those who supported Democrat Hillary Clinton seem to have had great difficulty accepting what the voters wrought in November, and have advanced various schemes to overturn the results: recounting the votes in closely contested states; trying to persuade members of the Electoral College to betray those who elected them; looking for a means to blame it all on Russian hackers. Marches and riots have sent the message that Trump is unacceptable.
But he is set to take the oath Friday. It would be best for Americans to accept this reality, in the spirit of respecting our free institutions, while still advocating for their interests by lawful means.
To be sure, the discomfort of many is understandable. Trump has no background in the very difficult business of politics. He was a celebrity businessman who parlayed his fame into a role on a reality TV show. He seems to be impulsive and self-serving.
On top of that, his behavior is unlike any president in history. He hurls oversized insults, boasts about himself excessively, has made crude statements about women and minorities, and fights with celebrities via messages on Twitter. It is a safe bet that he will not spend a great deal of his time worrying about protecting the dignity of his great office.
But a deep breath is in order.
Trump seems to bluster with a purpose. He initially stakes out outlandish positions, but eventually moves closer to the middle. Surely that is related to his experience cutting deals as a businessman.
He also seems more a populist than a doctrinaire conservative, which is why large numbers of Washington Republicans distrust and even privately detest him. He has spoken of maintaining health care for people with preexisting conditions, and his daughter Ivanka has advanced liberal ideas about helping women in the workplace.
The markets so far have sent a positive signal. So has small business. “Optimism among America’s small businesses soared in December by the most since 1980 as expectations about the economy’s prospects improved dramatically in the aftermath of the presidential election,” Bloomberg News reported last week, citing an index compiled by the National Federation of Independent Business.
Trump’s advocacy of greater school choice, especially for poor and minority students, could help improve public education. He will also surely have to address the exploding national debt, and unsustainable entitlements.
We hope his lifelong experience with the needs of the Northeast will make him an advocate for infrastructure improvements and better public transportation.
His extreme talk about trade sanctions may be part of his approach to cut better deals. (For one thing, they would run afoul of Congress and the business community.) Similarly, his radical positions on immigration are unlikely to be translated into action. Since the election, his focus has shifted toward removing especially violent illegal immigrants. And he backed off his claim that Mexico must fund a wall along the southern border (though he does say that country will repay American taxpayers eventually).
Foreign policy remains something of a question mark, though he has stressed boosting America’s economy, warming up to Russia, making allies contribute more to their defense, and staying out of such efforts as the Iraq War.
Trump could help his cause immeasurably by adopting a moderate tone in his inaugural address. He should strive to alleviate the tension, fear and anger in the country, and suggest that he would like to be president for everyone, including women and minorities.
He should also reconsider his habit of impulsive tweeting, and think carefully about what he sends out, once he becomes leader of the free world.
The level of hostility surrounding his ascension to power is unhealthy for America. Let us hope he works together with people of good will to lower the temperature, to embrace the rights of all people, and to make clear he will respect separation of powers and the First Amendment. All of us should stay alert and informed, and use our precious freedoms to make our influence felt.
Though we did not prefer to see Trump elected, we wish our great country continued success under the next president.
Foster’s Daily Democrat (N.H.), Jan. 15, 2017
Defunding Planned Parenthood endangers the health of millions of low-income women and children in this country and if Congressional Republicans go through with it, they should be held accountable for every person hurt by their action.
Specifically, every U.S. Representative and Senator who votes for this outrage should be thrown out of office by voters in 2018.
Planned Parenthood provides quality health care to women and children (and a small percentage of men) who often have no place else to turn. Planned Parenthood served a total of 2.7 million individuals in 2014, according to factcheck.org.
Among the many services Planned Parenthood provides, which include family planning, contraception, screenings for cancer and sexually transmitted infections, and health and wellness visits, Planned Parenthood also provides abortion services. Planned Parenthood estimates abortions account for about 3 percent of the health services it provides each year to women.
In its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a legal medical procedure protected by the 9th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling allows states to regulate the medical procedure after the first trimester. Those ideologically opposed to abortion believe they can reduce the practice by eliminating funding to Planned Parenthood.
This is a flawed and vindictive approach to a highly personal medical decision that should be made by each woman and her doctor. Women don’t have abortions because of Planned Parenthood or other abortion providers. Women have been terminating pregnancies for thousands of years. Debates about the topic from the Greek and Roman eras have been well documented.
Some pregnancies threaten the life of the mother. Others are forced on women through rape and incest. Some developing fetuses are not viable or could face extreme suffering if brought to term.
“Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future,” Justice Blackmun wrote in Roe v. Wade. “Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically or otherwise, to care for it.”
Unlike today’s debate, however, throughout history the focus was on the health and life of the mother, not the rights and legal standing of the unborn. In other words, abortions were restricted by states because they were dangerous to the mother. As late as 1965, illegal abortions caused one-sixth of all pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths. Keeping abortion legal, at a time where medical advances have rendered the procedure safe or safer than childbirth, protects the health of American women.
If the anti-abortion crowd gets its way, abortions won’t stop. They’ll just be forced back underground and more women will be medically injured or killed.
Defunding Planned Parenthood will not only make abortions more dangerous, it will also deny vital medical care to millions of women and children. The argument that other subsidized health care organizations could provide the care instead of Planned Parenthood simply isn’t true. Quality healthcare providers for Medicaid recipients are few and far between. Those in our region like Families First and Lamprey Health Services already serve thousands of patients, have missions that are not the same as Planned Parenthood, and view the organization not as a rival but as a valuable partner.
Planned Parenthood takes care of many of the most vulnerable women and children in our nation and for that it deserves our gratitude, not threats of defunding.
The Bennington Banner (Vt.), Jan. 18, 2017
If you need an example of how not to prepare for a Senate confirmation hearing, look no further than Betsy DeVos, the president-elect’s pick to be the next secretary of education, who testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Tuesday.
A casual observer of the hearing might think anyone who would consider taking on such a department might want to educate him or herself about the job before sitting before a panel of senators, but “At her Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday night, the billionaire conservative philanthropist and ‘school choice’ advocate appeared unprepared to answer straightforward questions about school reform, and she aired extreme views that could cause headaches for the incoming administration,” notes Graham Vyse, writing for the New Republic.
“She seemed to demonstrate a lack of understanding of one of education’s major federal civil rights laws, which requires states that take federal funding to provide children with disabilities the services they need to benefit from a public education,” Sen. Tim Kaine later told the Washington Post. And when asked about guns in schools, DeVos responded by providing an anecdote about protecting school children “from potential grizzlies.”
But focusing on her lack of preparedness and her gaffes distracts from her true agenda- to continue to defund public schools in favor of private charter schools run by for-profit companies and religious institutions.
James Hohmann, writing for the Washington Post, notes she and her husband, “poured millions into the charter school movement for decades …”
Kristina Rizga, writing for Mother Jones, notes DeVos has spent at least two decades pushing vouchers- i.e., public funding to pay for private and religious schools -to the center of the Republican Party’s education agenda, thanks in large part to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan-based think tank. As the Koch Brothers have done with ALEC- the American Legislative Exchange Council the DeVos’ have taken the long view, including implementing “the Overton Window, a theory of how a policy initially considered extreme might over time be normalized through gradual shifts in public opinion. Education policies were placed on a liberal-conservative continuum, with the far left representing ‘Compulsory indoctrination in government schools” and the far right, ‘No government schools,’” notes Rizga.
Proponents of charter schools often point at Detroit, which has been at the heart of the charter push, notes Rizga. “In 1996, former Metro Times reporter Curt Guyette showed how the Prince Foundation, as well as the foundation run by Dick DeVos’ parents, funded a carefully orchestrated campaign to label Detroit’s public schools as failing- and pushed for charters and ‘universal educational choice’ as a better alternative.” This push for charter schools has continued to take money from the schools that need it the most, making them even worse, thus pushing the privatization agenda even further.
And advocates of privatization often note testing shows students in the United States lag behind students in other industrialized nations. But really, that’s the way it’s always been. We have never been at the top of the pack and that failure has been decried for decades.
But, as Marion Brady notes for the Washington Post, “Historically, out of the institution’s dysfunctional organizational design came schools with lots of problems, but with one redeeming virtue. They were ‘loose.’ Teachers had enough autonomy to do their thing. So they did, and the kids that some of them coached brought America far more than its share of patents, scholarly papers, scientific advances, international awards, and honors.”
One might conclude that implementation of No Child Left Behind and Common Core has been nothing but a shell game to delegitimize public schools in an effort to redirect public money. Dipping a little deeper into Devos’ history- and the long-term agenda she and her husband have pushed -would confirm that.
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