- Associated Press - Friday, October 13, 2017

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

VERMONT

Rutland Herald, Oct. 11

Vermont is the second oldest state in the nation, which has caused policymakers in the state to look for ways to keep young people here and to attract young people from elsewhere to move here. An aging population creates problems for any state or nation, including a dwindling labor force and rising costs of care required by older people. Those problems are already evident in Vermont.

But if their large numbers create problems, it seems that for old-timers, Vermont is a grand place to live. That’s according to the latest ranking provided by U.S. News, the magazine that has already established itself as the most noticed ranker of the nation’s colleges and universities. According to the magazine’s list of states, Vermont ranks eighth-best among the states as a good place to grow old.

Maine is second on the list, and it also has the oldest population of all the states. Thus, it stands to reason that a state with good services for the elderly, a good environment and a sound economy would also be a state where the elderly would choose to live. It is a self-reinforcing pattern.

Rankings by organizations such as U.S. News all depend on the criteria used. In the case of the ranking on aging, the magazine assessed the quality of nursing homes, the health of senior citizens, the quality of the state’s Medicare program and the life expectancy of residents, among other criteria. Colorado was ranked as the number one place for old people. It was followed by Maine and Hawaii. New Hampshire finished in ninth place, just behind Vermont, and Florida finished 10th.

Rankings of this sort are kind of like horoscopes - they allow you to find confirmation for what you already thought. It is interesting that Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are not easy places to live, especially in winter, and though the economy of the region is stable, a lot of people struggle to get by, including a lot of old people. And yet not everyone is fleeing to Florida, and according to the magazine’s ranking, they wouldn’t be improving their lot if they did.

Respect for old people may be more prevalent in states where material consumption is less dominant, where learning the old ways helps people young and old get by. People in Vermont (and Maine) appreciate their physical environment, and often it is old people who retain knowledge of the woods and rivers and lakes and know best how to live among them.

And where respect for old people exists, a state is likely to go out of its way to provide the services that allow old people to live in dignity. If the economic rat race predominates in New York, New Jersey or other states, the magazine’s ranking suggests that the rat race is no big contributor to the well-being of old people.

It so happens that the bottom tier of states that are good for old people consists almost entirely of states from the Deep South, plus Alaska. Southern states are notably stingy on public services for residents, young and old, and because old people are more dependent on public services than most, it is no surprise that the states of the South do not rank high.

Vermont policymakers, including Gov. Phil Scott, often speak of the need for the population to grow to ensure a measure of economic dynamism that would create the revenues needed to support the aging population. That’s why getting more young people here is so important.

For older people, keeping Vermont young and vibrant would also maintain Vermont as a place that is good for old people to live. Older people are into craft beer, too. Colorado may rank as number one for the elderly, but it is also a place that attracts young, outdoorsy, recreation-minded people, and its landscape is magnificent. What’s good for the young is also good for the old, and that can apply to Vermont as well as Colorado.

Online: https://bit.ly/2g4W8w9

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MAINE

Portland Press Herald, Oct. 12

Leave it to the lawyers to argue that public records aren’t really public.

A task force formed by the Maine Judicial Branch to digitize state court records is recommending not to make available online - as they are through the federal courts’ Pacer system - records that the public has every right to see.

Instead, the task force wants those records available online only to lawyers and clients of each particular case; anyone else would have to go to the relevant courthouse and request the documents in person.

Forcing people to travel to obtain these records up to now has been a matter of technology - the records were available only in paper form, and only at the courthouse. The court system has maintained what legal advocates call “practical obscurity,” which means that while the information is technically public, logistics keep it hidden from all but the most tenacious researcher, or at least those able to physically get to the courthouse and navigate the records counter.

In making the recommendation - which was favored by all of the task force’s 21 members except longtime Maine political journalist Mal Leary - the task force said maintaining practical obscurity is important. People won’t seek justice through the courts, they argue, if they fear their personal information will become too public. The anonymity provided by accessing these records at home, they also said, would encourage people to misuse the information.

Hogwash.

The guardians of public information always overstate how the public would abuse that information if it were in their hands, and this is yet another example. In this case, the lawyers and other legal advocates on the task force, even if well intended, are putting the feelings of their clients ahead of the rights of the public.

Twelve states and the federal government place their court records online, and there are no reports of problems. It’s not even clear what those problems might be.

More importantly, what goes on in a courtroom is not private, nor are the documents produced by those actions. They are public, and should be available to the public in the most convenient way possible. If the records are digitized - and they should be - then they should be available in the way that most everything is now available - online.

That was the argument made by Leigh Saufley, chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, when she lobbied the Legislature for the money - taxpayer money - to fund the digitization project, saying, “The public deserves electronic access to its government.”

With very few exceptions already written out in law, that is true regardless of what information the government produces, how it’s used or who is using it. It doesn’t matter how that information makes someone look or how embarrassed it makes someone feel.

Those records are public, and they must be public as much as technology allows.

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

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

Nashua Telegraph, Oct. 8

It has been clear for some time that U.S. intelligence agencies need an overhaul. Too much reliance has been placed on technology, with old-fashioned human spying taking a back seat.

On Wednesday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that is about to change.

More intelligence agents will be sent out into the field, Pompeo told reporters. He did not provide details, but said his goal is to cut through red tape and change the CIA’s culture. “If you are in a process and you’re not adding value, get out of the way,” he said in summarizing his philosophy during a speech at George Washington University.

“This risk of the absence of agility and speed is a price our agency can’t afford to pay,” Pompeo added. “It’s one that America cannot afford, either.”

Like any enormous arm of government, our intelligence agencies - the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI and others - are at risk always of succumbing to the same bureaucratic inefficiency that permeates Washington. Pompeo seems to be indicating he believes that has happened already.

While technology can be and has been very effective in giving us information about America’s host of enemies, it cannot do the job alone. Only human spies, often operating at great risk to themselves, can finish the job.

Pompeo seems to understand that. Both the White House and Congress need to get behind him in reforming the CIA - and overcoming the inevitable resistance he will encounter from powerful, entrenched bureaucrats. The nation’s intelligence agencies are our first and, in many ways, most important protection against those who would subjugate and kill us. They need to be as effective as possible.

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

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MASSACHUSETTS

The (Worcester) Telegram & Gazette, Oct. 9

As we near Election Day in Central Massachusetts, city councilors in Worcester are out knocking on doors and talking up key points. One of the more interesting topics on the table this year is the Pawtucket Red Sox and the possibility of their relocation to Worcester.

Some candidates love the idea of bringing the team to Worcester. Others feel that Worcester is being played by the team in order to get more money to build new a stadium in Rhode Island. Whatever the opinion, it is worth noting that all this discussion surrounds the future of a team in a sport that is losing popularity by the day … or maybe we should say by the hour.

The owners in Major League Baseball may sometimes crow about attendance, but the fact is baseball is losing popularity. According to a Forbes article from just this past week, the 2017 MLB regular season marks the third consecutive season of total attendance declines, and five out of the last six that saw drops.

Baseball officials can frame those stats in all sorts of ways, blaming attendance drops on such things as the extreme weather conditions or the cyclical nature of what teams are performing well in any given season, but we have no time for those arguments. In fact, it’s time that is killing the sport.

Major league baseball games are ridiculously long, and they are getting longer. According to The Associated Press, the average length of a nine-inning game in the major leagues rose 4½ minutes this season to a record 3 hours, 5 minutes, 11 seconds, according to the commissioner’s office. Not to be left out, minor league games suffer from the same issue as well.

Baseball games have hovered around the 3-hour mark for quite some time. Games in the early 90s were routinely played in about 2 hours and 50 minutes. But go back to the late 70s and early 80s and games averaged only about 2½ hours. The games of Boston’s “Impossible Dream Season” of 1967 that catapulted the Red Sox to their current popularity were played in that short a time back 50 years ago. Baseball has always been a long game, but we’ve now gone past the breaking point.

It’s just no fun to watch a baseball game anymore. Baseball was never about continuous action, but with pitchers now taking a walk around the mound after every pitch and batters adjusting every piece of their uniforms after each swing, it’s become interminable.

The website fivethirtyeight.com, which is all about analyzing statistics, posted an excellent piece during the 2016 postseason about how playoff games take even longer than regular season games. Included was a discussion about relief pitching (and its greater usage nowadays) slowing the game even more in October. In fact, according to 538, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bullpen was taking 25.9 seconds per pitch in the 2016 playoffs. Think about that. That’s one minute for every two pitches. Of course, our beloved Red Sox weren’t far behind. In their only three postseason games last year, Boston relievers waited 25.6 seconds between pitches. We’re sure that those post season stats didn’t get better in Boston’s post season this year, which came to an end in four games with the Red Sox loss to the Houston Astros yesterday in the MLB Division Series.

This is a not a recipe for success - we’re speaking time-wise. Much has been written about young people - with their short attention spans, and their love of their immediate-gratification cellphones - abandoning baseball for other sports. Who can blame them? It takes real patience, and we’d argue, a strong will, to sit through a Red Sox-Yankees contest that routinely approaches the four-hour mark.

For comparison sake, most movie buffs would argue that sitting through “Gone with the Wind” is quite an accomplishment. But that movie is continuously entertaining, even at three hours and 58 minutes. That said, imagine if Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh paused 25.9 seconds between every utterance?

This should give Worcester officials pause. We’re not going to argue that baseball is going away anytime soon, but it’s clearly been eclipsed by other sports. Football is our country’s national pastime now, albeit under fire over player anthem protests. Basketball is probably the younger generation’s go-to game. And baseball?

This year, the intentional walk was changed so that we didn’t have to watch a pitcher throw four balls out of the strike zone. We’re told that next year, baseball will employ a 20-second pitch clock and catchers will be restricted to one trip to the mound per inning. Who knows, maybe these changes will shorten the game and raise excitement levels.

We say it’s a long shot. Postseason games that start at 8 p.m. routinely go well past any fan’s bedtime - particularly the bedtime of young fans who constitute the next generation of fandom. Baseball, it would seem, is trapped in its slow-paced past.

Frankly … my … dear …, baseball may well be gone with the wind unless it shortens up its act. It’s a case of less being more - except, of course, in seeing yet another all-too-early playoff exit.

Online: https://bit.ly/2g766x9

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CONNECTICUT

The Connecticut Post, Oct. 12

History is written by the victors, and so it is that we are brought up learning mainly one viewpoint of events. The view of the vanquished is silenced.

The telling of history ought to include multiple viewpoints, which gets closer to reality. This may mean “heroes” become humans with faults, some with grave faults. “Villains” become defenders.

But a fuller interpretation of history is not achieved by defacing public property.

Statues of Christopher Columbus in four Connecticut cities were vandalized over the weekend in protest of the veneration of the explorer who is celebrated on Columbus Day, this year Oct. 9.

Coordinated efforts by a far-left militant group, authorities suspect, led to the pouring of red paint over Columbus statues in Bridgeport, New Haven and Middletown, and Fake News stenciled onto the base of a statue in Norwalk.

The Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement, affiliated with a broader “antifa” network, had urged members to deface Columbus statues in protest of his legacy of imperialism.

Public protest is an American virtue; vandalizing property in the dark of night is not.

The merit of statues to commemorate former “heroes” has been in the forefront of American consciousness in recent times with the removal of statues of Confederate generals in the South, triggering protests and counterprotests. Discussions still rage, and rightly so, about the appropriateness of giving tribute to those who fought to keep people enslaved versus ignoring the history of the South and the Civil War. Statues of generals such as Robert E. Lee can go in museums where they are put in historical context, not kept in a public park where they are given hero status.

The debate has broadened to include the appropriateness of naming buildings for oppressors. Yale University last month changed Calhoun College, named for John C. Calhoun, a vice president and architect of the Civil War, to Hopper College, for Rear Adm. Grace Hopper who was a computer pioneer. This followed student protests over the Calhoun name and the smashing of a stained glass window depicting slaves.

We do not condone the destruction of property to make a point, whether it is cutting the Confederate flag off the hat of a patron at a Bethel coffee house, breaking stained glass windows in New Haven or throwing red paint on public statues. Express opinion through constructive ways.

History is complicated. A majority of people are here partly because of Christopher Columbus. Questioning his role in genocide after he “discovered” an inhabited land is not, however, a slight to the achievements of Italian-Americans, nor should it be seen as such.

It is appropriate - and necessary - to re-examine the telling of history through many perspectives to reach a greater truth.

Oct. 12 marked the 525th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in the Americas. Reflect, if you will, on the daring feat of crossing the Atlantic Ocean, on the terrible decimation of the indigenous people and on the lasting consequences.

Online: https://bit.ly/2yk1YlM

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal, Oct. 12

President Donald Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the “mainstream media,” saying time and again that the coverage is slanted and often devoted not to presenting facts or the truth, but to selective, agenda-driven accounts that amount to “fake news.” On Wednesday, however, Mr. Trump crossed a line that surprised even some of his critics, and turned what had been an ongoing spat into something more disturbing.

Responding to an NBC News report that he had expressed a desire to see a tenfold increase in the United States’ nuclear arsenal, Mr. Trump, true to form, took to Twitter. At 9:55 a.m. Wednesday, he tweeted: “With all the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their license? Bad for country!”

Apparently he wasn’t joking (even if he doesn’t understand that it is individual TV stations, not the networks, that are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission). He followed up later in the day, tweeting that “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”

In fact, what would be unfair to the public, and bad for the country, would be to do anything remotely close to what Mr. Trump suggests. As several prominent press freedom advocacy groups said in a joint statement: “When coming from the leader of the free world, words matter. And if the First Amendment means anything, it’s that the government can’t censor news because it’s critical of the government. The president should be working to uphold the values of the First Amendment, not tearing them down.”

Indeed, a free press is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. In doing its work, the media is going to stir things up, and its not surprising that the president of the United States is going to be, at times, critical of news coverage and the entities that provide it. But as Thomas Jefferson said: “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”

The ultimate test with regard to fairness and accuracy is not whether the president likes news reports, but whether they hold up to public scrutiny. If they don’t hold up, or if there have been deliberate attempts to misrepresent what happened or what someone said, there are legal avenues available. Mr. Trump, hardly new to celebrity status, surely knows what they are.

Now it’s possible, as some have suggested, that Mr. Trump’s comments were nothing more than his latest taunts, designed to elicit an overreaction by his target. It’s also important to note that Mr. Trump is hardly the first president to want to control the media. But even suggesting that government should take steps to stop or drown out reporting that is seen as negative sets a dangerous precedent.

Even if Mr. Trump was speaking in jest - and we don’t know that he was - his words open a sad and dangerous chapter for a nation founded on the principles of freedom and individual liberty and government by the people. It’s possible that others, now or in the future, might echo his words and take them seriously. And that is why Mr. Trump’s words, in this instance, are dangerous.

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

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