- Associated Press - Friday, July 28, 2017

Editorials from around New England:

NEW HAMPSHIRE

The Nashua Telegraph

July 28

A few countries have shaky economies, with double-digit unemployment, crumbling treasuries and even food shortages. One of them has the largest petroleum reserves in the world. It is Venezuela.

Months of demonstrations in the streets have left nearly 100 Venezuelans dead and at least 1,500 wounded. The country’s corrupt socialist government, headed by Nicolas Maduro, has been unmoved by the unrest, the suffering of its people and even a referendum last week in which millions of people demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the regime.

Within a few days, Venezuela will hold an election meant to name a new constituent assembly that is to rewrite the nation’s constitution. Whether it is conducted honestly, which is highly doubtful, and whether the government bows to the will of the people will be important.

For months, few world leaders have shown any desire to intervene in Venezuela’s internal affairs. But last week, that began to change. Canada, Mexico, Brazil and the European Union have expressed concern about the upcoming vote.

President Donald Trump issued a statement proclaiming that, “The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles.” He vowed “strong and swift economic actions” if the Maduro regime installs a puppet assembly.

If that is done, care must be exercised to avoid hurting the very Venezuelan people Trump wants to help. And under no circumstance should the United States intervene directly against Maduro’s government.

Clearly, however, neither our government nor others can continue to ignore what is going on in Venezuela, where enormous suffering is being caused by an autocratic regime that is not supported by the people of that country.

Online: https://bit.ly/2v5eia6

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MAINE

The Times Record (Brunswick)

July 28

Some in the Legislature will attempt on Aug. 2 to resurrect a bill making female genital mutilation a state crime.

Known as FGM or the misnomer “female circumcision,” the practice involves the cutting or removal of some or all of the external genitalia. In some instances, FGM involves blocking or narrowing the vaginal opening. The World Health Organization states that practice, “aims to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity.”

“Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support,” WHO states.

Rather than curbing sexual desire, FGM can make sex extremely painful. Moreover, it can lead to serious health risks, including infection, urinary and vaginal problems and, in some cases, death.

According to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, at least 200 million girls and women in 30 countries alive today have undergone the practice, mostly in Africa and the Middle East. According to UNICEF, the practice is prevalent in Sudan and Somalia, both of which have immigrant populations in Maine.

An Act To Prohibit Female Genital Mutilation would make it a crime to perform FGM on girls, or to be a parent or guardian who permits it. It also prohibits transporting a girl from the state for the purpose of FGM. Punishment is up to 10 years incarceration and a $20,000 fine.

FGM is already prohibited under federal law, but supporters believe the bill allows state prosecutors to go after perpetrators of a horrific crime that federal prosecutors in Maine are too overwhelmed to handle.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Heather Sirocki, tells us that FGM is “often done without anastasia and with physical restraint.”

With all that in mind, who could possibly be opposed to the bill?

The ACLU of Maine, for one, which would rather “find evidence-based solutions that will truly protect these vulnerable populations.”

And it seems that hard evidence of FGM is difficult to find. Sirocki says there are no documented cases of FGM in Maine, although she and other advocates say they have solid reasons to believe it is happening.

“The evidence is somewhat difficult to pin down,” Sirocki said. “People are engaging in it, but you have to catch them and have someone report it. . At the same time, I’m getting private Facebook messages from nurses working in obstetrics and they are reporting horrific mutilations.”

Sirocki is also convinced that Somali immigrants in Lewiston have carried the practice over, noting that in Somalia, FGM is prevalent in 98 percent of women and girls, figures backed up by UNICEF.

We asked Rep. Sirocki if it would make more sense to put efforts into quantifying hard data in order to address the issue.

“I don’t know how to penetrate this community and get that information,” Sirocki said, adding that, even if bill could be construed as unnecessary, “what is the harm in having an unnecessary law?”

We should note that the community to which she refers is 47 miles from her own legislative district in Scarborough.

“This is sending a message to a community that says, ‘We do not allow that here,’” Sirocki. “There is no harm in having this law on the books.”

ACLU, however, does believe the law would cause harm, as they believe it is an “attempt to single out behavior that is commonly attributed to certain religious and ethnic communities as different from other forms of abuse.”

ACLU would also prefer “results based solutions that prioritize education and prevention over criminalization are the most effective way to curb dangerous behaviors.”

There is no question that FGM is a horrific practice with no benefits and lasting physical and psychological harm. All sides agree on that. And Sirocki is correct when she says that FGM is a cultural, not a religious, problem and a form of child abuse.

If FGM is happening in Maine, as Sirocki fears, it needs to be combated, and that begins when people report instances in a quantifiable way.

It’s easier for the Legislature to further criminalize FGM, but harder to provide preventative measures - outreach and education.

Without hard data as to how often, if at all, FGM occurs in Maine, Sirocki’s bill still seems like a solution in search of a problem.

Online: https://bit.ly/2v6ZZ4G

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VERMONT

The Brattleboro Reformer

July 27

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision Monday curtailing overreach by federal immigration officers was the obvious one for the justices to make. That doesn’t make it any less important in ways that could extend beyond Massachusetts.

The SJC ruled unanimously that state law does not permit local and state officials to detain immigrants at the request of federal immigration officers. This puts a roadblock before the Trump administration’s efforts to essentially deputize state officials to participate in the White House’s increasingly aggressive policy of arresting and detaining immigrants.

The court case originated with the arrest of Sreynuon Lunn, a Cambodian immigrant who was arrested last year on charges of unarmed robbery in Boston. The charges were dropped, but a Boston Municipal Court judge kept him in custody at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) until its agents could arrive and arrest him on charges of being an illegal immigrant. Mr. Lunn was ordered deported in the early 2000s after a criminal conviction but Cambodia would not accept him. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Mr. Lunn, who arrived in Massachusetts as a seven-month-old in 1985, has subsequently been released.

The U.S. Justice Department argued that Massachusetts officials have the “inherent authority” to detain people solely at the request of ICE. In an unsigned opinion, the SJC countered that “Massachusetts law provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a federal civil immigration detainer.”

Immigration law and enforcement falls within federal oversight, an authority that agencies like ICE guard jealously until it is convenient to do otherwise. State and local law enforcement officials argued that being brought into immigration cases by ICE makes it difficult for them to gain and keep the confidence of understandably jittery immigrant communities. This in turn compromises their ability to address legitimate criminal acts within those communities.

These concerns helped prompt Great Barrington to adopt its “Trust Policy” at its May Town Meeting defining the rights of immigrants in the town, and led the Pittsfield and Stockbridge police departments to adopt policies declaring that the enforcement of immigration policy is not their responsibility. A Safe Communities Act embedding these principles in state law is currently before the Legislature.

The SJC in its decision went a step further to declare that if the federal government went beyond requests for cooperation from local and state officials to make such cooperation mandatory it would be in violation of the 10th amendment. That amendment states that any powers not delegated to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution are reserved to the states.

The ruling will not hinder the federal government in enforcing its immigration policy, even if misguided, but it will prevent local and state officials have being undermined or dragged into transparent fishing expeditions as was the case with Mr. Lunn. The SJC has in the past opened a trail with its rulings, perhaps most notably in its decision supporting gay marriage, and it is safe to say that its decision rendered Monday will be of keen interest to other states concerned about federal overreach on immigration.

Online: https://bit.ly/2tQxKrk

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CONNECTICUT

The Hartford Courant

July 26

Connecticut is a national outlier when it comes to determining state employee pension benefits. That’s confirmed by a respected research organization, the Pew Charitable Trusts, in a recent report.

The way this state sets state retirement benefits leaves the legislature largely out of the conversation. The legislature should take up the think tank’s recommendation to get more information from other states on their retirement benefits and policies.

There are just four states where collective bargaining plays a primary role in determining pension benefits, and Connecticut is one of them, says Pew.

Here, the governor and his budget chief do the talking for the state with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition.

The vast majority of states do it differently, by statute - meaning that those benefits can be modified by legislatures.

The chief negotiators for most other states are legislative leaders, says Toni Boucher, Republican vice chairman of the legislature’s Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee. Why that matters is because governors are “not as responsive to what is happening at the grass roots.”

Pew isn’t suggesting that Connecticut state government eliminate collective bargaining or change the way it does business. It is suggesting that the legislature get caught up with the details of pension plans and policies in other states.

It’s also suggesting the legislature more closely monitor the financial health of the state’s retirement plans with a “stress test” that could help “determine how the plan would perform during a financial crisis.”

Some may question whether it’s too late for a state-by-state comparison. The state Senate is voting next week on a new benefits package negotiated between the governor’s office and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition. The state House of Representatives approved the benefits package this week. If the deal passes the Senate, it might be many years before retirement benefits come up for discussion again.

It’s never too late to understand the impact of bargains, however.

If policymakers in decades past had really weighed the consequences of failing to fully fund retirement programs, Connecticut would not now have one of the worst-funded state employee pension plans in the nation.

Pew says its pension project team got requests from legislators from both sides of the political aisle for an analysis of the governor’s deal with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition. Pew said its analysis “does not constitute an endorsement of the agreement.” But Pew does suggest, among other things, a 50-state study of retirement benefits “to help ensure Connecticut is in line with peer states.” That’s only sensible.

Pew said it and the state reached out to other states, asking them to “broadly generalize” how they determine pension benefits. They found that “collective bargaining does not determine state employee (pension) benefits in most states.”

As a practical matter, states often do have to get union buy-in for changes in retirement benefits. But most other states handle retirement benefits like they do their budgets: by putting proposals through finance and appropriations committees to figure out how much the state can afford and where the money will come from.

In Connecticut, however, the legislature can’t tweak the details of the deal that the governor and unions have reached. Legislators can only approve or reject it.

Or legislators don’t have to vote at all: The deal is deemed automatically approved if no vote is taken for 30 days while the legislature is in regular session.

It might be healthy for the state Capitol to look at what other states do, given that Connecticut is the odd man out on this.

Online: https://cour.at/2tQzLnl

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Gloucester Times

July 25

She’s an old warship that gained fame - and the famous “Old Ironsides” nickname - more than 200 years ago. She last saw conflict many decades before the Civil War, yet sailors still walk her decks and proudly speak of her as the battle-tested warrior she is.

The USS Constitution was launched in 1797 and, like warships of that era, was meant to last for 10 or 20 years. Last Sunday, after more than two years in dry dock undergoing an extensive renovation, she floated again into Boston Harbor to tie up at her usual wharf in Charlestown.

This renovation was no small feat. Ship restorers and riggers painstakingly removed 100 rotted or damaged hull planks and gun deck sections, rebuilt the cutwater - the forward edge of the ship’s bow - and the stern, and removed and replaced 2,200 copper sheets covering the hull below the water line. Five hundred of those copper sheets were signed by nearly 100,000 museum visitors before being hammered onto the hull.

If you visited during the renovation you would have seen a vessel shorn of its sails and rigging, with its dozens of cannons lined up on shore like beached pilot whales. All extra weight that could be removed was off the ship before she was pulled into dry dock in May 2015. For when the water was drained and the wooden ship left to balance on its keel, the extra weight of iron cannons and their carriages could have bowed and distended Old Ironsides’ wooden hull.

Even under repair Old Ironsides was a big attraction. Active duty U.S. Navy sailors in their early 19th century garb were always ready to answer tourists’ questions, and to occasionally demonstrate the speed and skill honed by the original ship’s crew to load and reload the huge cannons they aimed against British warships in the War of 1812.

It was in the first major battle of that war that the Constitution earned her stripes and nickname.

Facing off against the British frigate HMS Guerriere - a French ship that had been seized and outfitted by the Brits - the Constitution pulled to within 25 yards and both ships opened fire. The resulting damage and chaos must have been tremendous, as the shredded sails and tangled rigging of the Guerriere brought down the main mast amid carnage on deck.

The brief battle disabled the British ship, which was later set ablaze and sunk. Seven Americans, including Lt. William Bush, the first U.S. Marine Corps officer to die in combat, were killed in the battle, along with 13 British sailors.

History says that a sailor aboard the Constitution, seeing the British cannon balls bouncing off her thick oak sides, cried out, “Huzza, her sides are made of iron!” Whether fact or just a good story, the name stuck.

Old Ironsides went on to win two other battles during that war, which was the extent of her combat.

She has undergone restorations many times. From 2007-10 she underwent work to return her closer to her appearance in 1812. This most recent work in dry dock, with a $12 million price tag, makes her shipshape for many years to come, especially since she’s no longer called upon to sail the open seas - or even leave the dock, except for the periodic ceremonial turnaround in Boston Harbor.

Massachusetts is lucky to be the home of the USS Constitution. With the “rude bridge that arched the flood” in Concord, Plymouth Rock and scores of other notable sites, events and individuals, our state is rich with history and a major draw for tourists, students and scholars from around the world.

Most people may not recall who won the War of 1812 (it ended in a stalemate), and it’s probably a sign of the times that the souvenir models of the Constitution in the gift shop bear a “made in China” sticker.

But visitors to the real Old Ironsides know her proud legacy - a vessel unique in the purest sense of the word - that extends far beyond the wharf in Charlestown.

Online: https://bit.ly/2uFWvW1

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal

July 26

It is welcome news that, 11 years after a slump began, Rhode Island has finally made up for the number of jobs it lost. According to a report by the Rhode Island Department of Labor, the state reached a new all-time high of 496,600 jobs in June.

Politicians spun the results as evidence their policies are working. And certainly, Gov. Gina Raimondo has been much more aggressive than her predecessor in trying to attract jobs. But it is crucially important that the people of Rhode Island understand that, in terms of creating a vibrant economy here, the heavy lifting has yet to be done.

The happy headline, unfortunately, does not tell the whole story. Mimicking a national trend, lower-paying service jobs generally replaced middle-class manufacturing jobs in Rhode Island. The state’s Gross Domestic Product growth has been more sluggish than that of the nation. And the state still seems to be first-in, and last-out, when a recession hits. Other states suffered less of a decline and matched their previous jobs high much faster than Rhode Island.

Meanwhile, a statistic tracked by economist Leonard Lardaro of the University of Rhode Island portends what he calls a “train wreck” for Rhode Island. While the total labor force of the United States - those either working or unemployed but actively seeking employment - has grown markedly, the number in the state has fallen precipitously, Professor Lardaro notes. Unless it can attract or develop large numbers of skilled workers, Rhode Island faces a bleak economic future.

Mr. Lardaro also wonders if the new job numbers might have to be revised downward later, since they do not seem to coincide with tax revenues. The legislature had to scramble late in the session to trim the budget when revenue projections were lowered. Something does not add up.

Clearly, the state should be doing much more to stimulate its economy.

Its taxes should be more competitive, something that becomes difficult when the legislature repeatedly rewards special interests, making high property taxes all but inevitable. Rhode Island’s overall business climate remains one of the worst in America, according to surveys such as one conducted by CNBC. Businesses complain of a stifling regulatory environment, with the legislature constantly threatening to impose additional burdens. Unlike other states, Rhode Island fails to analyze, in any systematic way, the economic impact of public policies. Rather, it flies blind.

The state’s public education system is not nearly as good as it should be, with Governor Raimondo advancing only weak and timid reforms. The state continues to under-invest in higher education. These policies contribute to a workforce that is not as well-educated as it must be if Rhode Island is to become an economic engine for high-paying jobs.

This is not to say Rhode Island is not trying. Ms. Raimondo has pressed hard to use economic incentives to attract middle-class jobs and make the state a center of innovation. She has worked to match job training to employers’ needs. She has encouraged education in computer skills in the public schools.

But these are only small parts of big, bold changes that must be made. While the long recession that gripped the state may be weakening, our leaders must do much more to transform Rhode Island’s economy from a coughing jalopy belching clouds of exhaust to something approaching a well-tuned Ferrari.

Online: https://bit.ly/2tKZ6v0

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