- Associated Press - Friday, March 3, 2017

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

The (New London) Day (Conn.), March 1, 2017

Political pundits are making much of how presidential the president appeared in his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. Indeed he did. That’s a low bar, perhaps, but a welcomed development for this president. For the sake of the nation, President Trump needs to keep it up.

To that end, consider a comment that came at the end of the speech.

“The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us,” Trump said.

Amen, to that. Please let it mean an end to the trivial tweets responding to every slight by a celebrity; an end to picking useless fights with the press; and the abandonment of the need to explain away his loss of the popular vote, etc.

Unfortunately, there is little to find in the Trump agenda that makes for good policy.

The president’s nationalistic and isolationist policies were again on display. A brighter future lies with engaging the global community, competing aggressively in open markets and advocating for freedom in all its forms. Instead, Trump wants to erect walls, literally and via tariffs.

Trump again presented his protectionist proposals as a means of restoring jobs lost to overseas competition. But the fact is that it is technological advances and the growing use of robotic production that is the true job threat. America can best address it by improving education and training to fill those high-tech jobs and opening more markets to U.S. goods.

In killing the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which the president bragged about Tuesday, the U.S. will make it more difficult to compete in the world’s fastest growing economic region, the Asia Pacific.

The president called upon Congress “to repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs, and at the same time, provide better health care.”

“The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we will do,” said Trump, making it sound so matter of fact.

Yet so far his administration has offered no plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. He appeared ready to hand the problem off to Congress. No consensus is forming there either, though the very broad outlines presented by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, suggest that millions of citizens who gained insurance under the ACA would lose it.

Trump again vowed to “soon begin the construction of a great wall along our southern border” but skipped the part about Mexico paying for it.

He overstated the immigration problem and its effect on crime.

“By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone,” Trump said.

It is Trump’s wall and his administration’s crackdown on undocumented residents that could end up costing many billions of dollars, and without justification.

“Illegal immigration from Mexico has trailed off in the last decade. And according to the Pew Hispanic Center, the net flow across the border is now less than zero,” noted the New York Times in a recent editorial.

Trump vowed “to promote clean air and clear water.” Promote but not protect, apparently.

Even by Trumpian standards, the speech was remarkable for its hyperbole.

“Dying industries will come roaring back to life.”

“Our neglected inner cities will see a rebirth of hope, safety, and opportunity.”

“Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing, and hope.”

Regarding silver linings, the president did open some doors for bipartisan policymaking.

Trump said he would ask “Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States- financed through both public and private capital -creating millions of new jobs.”

Editorially, we have long advocated for major infrastructure investment, only to see it opposed by Republican congresses during President Obama’s last six years in office.

Trump said education would be a priority, stating, “education is the civil rights issue of our time” and advocating “school choice for disadvantaged youth.”

That is a noble goal, as long as it is not presented in a way that erodes traditional public education.

The president wants to find a way to provide paid family leave and access to affordable child care. Democrats, far more than Republicans, will welcome those initiatives.

Trump must now move from vowing to do great things to the far more difficult task of achieving great things through legislative enactment. Acting presidential was a start.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2mvioEy

The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Feb. 26, 2017

Just when you thought the useless and wasteful drug-war philosophy of the past was slowly receding in the rear view, the Trump administration is pulling a U-turn.

The White House indicated last week that states like Maine that have legalized marijuana should expect “greater enforcement” of federal anti-pot laws, going against public sentiment, economic trends and the good sense that anti-drug resources should be spent on solving the opioid crisis, not disrupting safe, established businesses following state law.

It’s hard to know just what the administration has in store. The announcement last week, by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, came with no further details or policy changes, except to say that only recreational marijuana, not medical, would be targeted.

Going after recreational marijuana goes against a campaign pledge from Trump, but that doesn’t mean much. He also said last year he would protect transgender Americans, yet he recently rescinded federal direction on bathroom use for transgender students, citing state rights. (Apparently, states are free to discriminate, but not to legalize a largely harmless drug.)

It does, however, jibe with the views of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who once said “good people don’t smoke marijuana” and now oversees the Justice Department in a country where nearly half the people have tried it.

Sessions in his confirmation hearings would not commit to following the Obama administration’s policy of leaving states alone as long as a solid regulatory structure was in place. Federal law is the law, Sessions has argued, and he will enforce it even when it conflicts with state law.

Of course, that conflict could be lessened, though not entire erased, if federal agencies and Congress took the sensible steps of reclassifying marijuana as a drug with accepted medical uses- something on the books in 28 states now -and rewriting financial rules to allow marijuana businesses that follow state law to use the banking system.

Instead, the Trump administration appears ready to antagonize those businesses; the real question is how. Spicer’s announcement has already injected great uncertainty into the industry, and actions such as raids or prosecutions of recreational marijuana businesses would further chill investment and scare off customers.

That would unnecessarily stunt an industry that is expected to produce more than 250,000 jobs and $24 billion in revenue by 2020, and send millions of productive and otherwise law-abiding Americans back to the black market, where their money is much more likely to end up in the hands of criminals who are actually dangerous.

States like Maine that have legalized marijuana should fight this kind of federal overreach. Unlike with the transgender case, state laws on marijuana are not discriminatory. They are a true example of the Jeffersonian concept of states as laboratories, and so far the experiments are working- just look at the successes in Washington state and Colorado.

Federal resources would be much better spent helping stop the daily carnage from opioid use than dismantling an industry that has entered the mainstream.

As Maine state officials and legislators work to implement the new marijuana-legalization law here, they should not be deterred by the noise coming from the Trump administration.

They should reassure with their outspoken support the business interests looking to invest in the industry, and they should remember that they have history and public opinion on their side.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2mfOBiY

The (Springfield) Republican (Mass.), Feb. 27, 2017

A liberal Democrat defeated another liberal Democrat in the race to head the Democratic National Committee.

And a large number of liberal Democrats were plenty unhappy.

How does that make sense?

It goes like this: The guy who came in second, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, was seen as more purely progressive. And in today’s Democratic Party, being able to tout one’s progressive bona fides- whether real or imagined -and having others who are seen as righteously progressive backing one’s candidacy- especially Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -is a seal of approval for the leftie activist set.

It made no difference that there was barely a scintilla of policy difference between Ellison and the eventual winner, former Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Both check all the same boxes, stand for all the same things.

On wages and gender issues and war and on being opposed to anything and everything that President Donald Trump stands for- both are pure. But Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, was seen as Bernie’s guy. Perez, who entered the race much later than did Ellison, came quickly to be portrayed as the establishment choice. And that was enough for so many Democrats. But not for the ones who mattered: those who are actually voting members of the national committee.

Perez came one vote short on the first ballot, but managed to do what he had to do on the second go-round, besting Ellison, 235-200.

Why should any of this matter to your average Democrat, or Democratic-leaning independent, in Anytown USA? Because unity, not infighting, is best for the party out of power. And with a nominal Republican in the White House and Republicans holding majorities in both houses of Congress, Democrats would do well to be unified.

After the vote on Saturday, many made noise about working for unity. Perez even named Ellison his deputy, a largely ceremonial post. And many spoke about the unified front the party would present going forward. But not before a handful of Ellison backers stormed out in a huff.

It is perhaps worth remembering that Sanders, the Progressive set’s main man, isn’t even a Democrat. He’s an independent, a longtime self-described socialist who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate. And yet his support means so much to so many members of the Democratic Party.

There’ll be a battle over the direction of the party going forward. Some want to pull it as far leftward as possible. Others hope to allow those whose leanings are more centrist to feel at home in the party.

Saturday’s battle, pitting a leftie against another leftie, gave a pretty clear indication of where the party is headed, at least over the near term.

Will Perez find a way to make room for centrists? Here’s hoping he at least tries.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2mH1a3X

The Providence Journal (R.I.), Feb. 26, 2017

The Founders understood that a free press- given its role of criticizing, questioning and challenging those in power -is vital to liberty. That is why freedom of the press is specifically enshrined in the Constitution as part of its First Amendment.

Thomas Jefferson, our third president and chief author of the Declaration of Independence, was such an advocate of freedom of the press that he once observed that “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

The basis for America’s government, he noted, was “the opinion of the people.” It is they who hold the power. The politicians are only their (temporary) representatives.

It is troubling, then, to hear the most powerful politician in the nation speak out so bitterly about the news media.

In a rambling press conference on Feb. 16, President Trump denounced many in the media, charging they had purveyed “fake news,” failed to give his administration any credit for its accomplishments and exaggerated its mistakes.

“The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about (it), we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. … The level of dishonesty is out of control,” President Trump said.

“I can handle a bad story better than anybody as long as it’s true and, you know, over a course of time, I’ll make mistakes and you’ll write (I’ve done) badly and I’m OK with that. But I’m not OK when it is fake.” He criticized the preponderance of “anger and hatred” toward him in CNN panel discussions and said that stories about him being in cahoots with the Russians were false.

He followed up that criticism with a harsher tweet: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

A president, like anyone else, is entitled to his opinion, including criticism of the way members of the press behave. Many presidents, not just Trump, have blasted the media and knocked those who dare to challenge them. But presidents are powerful, and they take an oath to defend Constitution, including the First Amendment.

It is essential that such statements do not inspire his underlings to abuse the Constitution, limit the public’s access to legitimate information, or use government’s enormous powers to try to thwart a free and vigorous press. Such a slide toward tyranny might well precipitate a constitutional crisis.

There are already deeply troubling signs. In a despicable move last Friday, the White House barred outlets that have run critical news stories from the taxpayer-funded press secretary’s office.

With great power at their disposal, presidents and other leaders can easily shape a message to serve themselves while keeping the public in the dark. Our democracy cannot function without a citizenry that is fully informed and armed with facts. Political spin is not enough. This is true in Rhode Island, too, where it is vital that political corruption and other shenanigans are exposed.

Some of President Trump’s remarks, frankly, seem to bear no relation to reality. His rambling, unscripted style lends itself to blurting out false statements. Like any other president, he should be scrutinized and held accountable.

Journalists- when they are fair to all parties, fearless, dogged, and dedicated to digging beneath the surface and reporting facts -are anything but the enemies of the people. They are absolutely essential to freedom and the people’s ability to govern themselves.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2mMTHzH

The Nashua Telegraph (N.H.), Feb. 28, 2017

In a room overflowing with fancy gowns, pretentious filmmakers and pushy paparazzi on the red carpet, the Academy Awards are often completely irrelevant to New Hampshire. But an Oscar-nominated film about one slain Granite State journalist demonstrated the importance of his craft and the sad reality of public opinion surrounding the media during the Trump administration.

James Foley, who grew up in Rochester, served as a freelance correspondent and was contributing content to the news outlet GlobalPost in November 2012 when he was kidnapped by Islamic militants while in Syria.

For nearly two years, he was held as a prisoner before his captors forced him to his knees and made him read an ISIS propaganda letter chastising the U.S. for its involvement in Iraq. He was beheaded shortly after completing the letter. His life is documented in a 2016 film, “Jim: The James Foley Story,” which received an Oscar nod for best original song - “The Empty Chair,” with music and lyrics by American record producer J. Ralph and Sting.

It was easy to see why Trump and his supporters would tune out of the Oscars on Sunday. Host Jimmy Kimmel took more than a few potshots at the White House in his opening monologue, and an Iranian director, who received one of those little golden men, refused to attend because of Trump’s attempted travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Republicans have never had much love for Hollywood liberal elitists, but James Foley is not one of them. Trump loyalists have little respect for the mainstream media, but Foley represented the best of the Fourth Estate.

Dev Patel, of “Slumdog Millionaire” fame, introduced Sting, who performed the original song for the Foley film. During his introduction, Patel mentioned this is a time when “journalists around the world are under attack.”

A quote from Foley appeared onstage after Sting’s gig: “If I don’t have the moral courage to challenge authority … we don’t have journalism.”

Rekindling Foley’s memory is more important than ever because the New Hampshire native represents a time when Trump wasn’t ready to make the media his No. 1 enemy.

In November 2014, the always bombastic, headlines-grabbing New York billionaire paid tribute to the slain journalist during the presentation of a First Amendment award here.

Foley was posthumously awarded the Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Award, presented annually to a New Hampshire individual or organization who exemplifies the protections of a free press and freedom of speech.

“What James was doing at the risk and ultimate loss of his life was telling stories of innocent people caught up in terrible, terrible circumstances,” Trump said at the dinner, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader. “He did this because he felt those stories needed to be told. And he was right.”

Apparently the president only favors quality journalism when it’s thousands of miles from his doorstep. But the values Foley was fighting for represent all journalists protecting the First Amendment, no matter how many times Trump disregards valuable reporting as “fake news.”

The Union Leader reported Trump accepted the invitation to speak upon learning Foley was the recipient, saying he “learned more about the 40-year-old journalist beheaded by Islamic militants” and quickly jumped at the opportunity to praise him.

“(Foley) was far more brave than I’ll ever be,” Trump said during the 2014 event.

Seeing as Donald Trump is skipping the White House Correspondents’ Dinner this year rather than be subject to jokes about his performance from the journalists he has tried to silence and defame, we could not agree more with the president’s sentiment on Foley’s bravery.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2lVvB8n

The Rutland Herald (Vt.), Feb. 24, 2017

For curious children, exposure to the realities of the universe is like an unfolding pageant of miraculous facts. Did you know the world is round? That it actually goes around the sun? That all those stars out there are really other suns- billions and billions of them, filling a universe that reaches beyond our imagining?

If they are lucky, their education in science keeps alive this elemental sense of wonder. They learn that life is possible because our planet revolves at a distance from its sun that allows for a narrow range of prevailing temperatures at which water exists in liquid form. Liquid water is not so common in the universe, but where we know it to exist- here on Earth -life has evolved, including a life form with the power to reflect on itself and to contemplate the unlikely fact of its own existence. That would be us.

If those curious children continue to be lucky, the sense of wonder they felt when they were young will stay with them as they become adults. Then they might be intrigued by the latest discovery of seven exoplanets circling a nearby star with conditions that might be conducive to life.

Exoplanets are planets outside our solar system. Scientists have long thought that the vast number of stars means it is likely that some might have planets at the right temperature with atmospheres capable of supporting life. But supposing is different from discovering. Reports this week say observations of a dwarf star that is 40 light years away suggest that as many as seven Earth-like planets might be in orbit at temperatures where life would be possible. Observing planets around dwarf stars is easier for scientists because dwarf stars emit less light than other stars.

Forty light years is not exactly close, in human terms. It equals 235 trillion miles. It is close enough, however, and the orientation of the planets is convenient enough, that scientists have been able to gather information about the planets’ orbits and their distance from their sun. Contemplation of the wondrous realities of the universe has caused the human mind to head in many different directions. For many, the realities of existence are so mysterious that divine origins seem to be the only possible explanation. Others allow for the possibility of a spiritual dimension but find that the study of the physical world in and of itself is miracle enough for the human mind to wrestle with. For others, nature is sufficient unto itself.

The scientific enterprise itself is an awesome reality. Scientists have discovered complex cosmological realities involving light, particles, time. They have penetrated the genetic structures of life. They have fashioned technologies that for most of us are unfathomable- digital devices, medical treatments, nuclear bombs.

It is almost too much to grasp. And yet the advance of science has been accompanied by a continuing trend of science denial or abuse. Author Cynthia Barnett has written of how unscrupulous boosters lured settlers to the arid Plains of the Western states saying that rain would follow the plow. It happened twice- in the 1870s and the 1910s. It was bogus science, promoted by railroad interests eager to sell land along railroad corridors. But nature had the last word in the form of droughts that ruined lives. The Dust Bowl was the result of science denial.

“Regardless of alternative facts, fake news or scientific censorship, nature tells the truth,” Barnett wrote. “That truth will flood in torrential rains. It will sear in extended droughts. It will sweep into coastal homes, especially where it has been suppressed; in North Carolina, for example, where the state general assembly banned the use of sea-level rise projections in coastal policymaking, and in South Florida, where thousands of condos and rental apartments are under construction in areas known for serious tidal flooding.”

Nature- from distant planets 40 light years away to a 66-degree February day in Vermont -has much to tell us if we manage to retain an appropriate awe of and respect for the realities of the world.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2lY3rb3


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