- Associated Press - Friday, September 29, 2017

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

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Nashua Telegraph, Sept. 25

If the recent string of hurricanes has shown us anything, it’s that Mother Nature doesn’t play favorites.

It doesn’t matter if you’re country music superstar Kenny Chesney or Jane Doe from anywhere USA. If your island getaway or suburban ranch was in the path of destruction, it’s likely wiped off the map.

Mother Nature is oblivious to race, religion or one’s socioeconomic status. Destruction comes for one and all.

Likewise, in times of such natural disasters, we as a nation come together in the healing process.

Despite the political divide we must endure daily out of Washington, citizens on both sides of that fault line seem to forget the red meat Republicans and Democrats were just feeding them.

For a brief moment in time, we are once again Americans. No social or political labels - just Americans.

Fortunately, we live in a community that seems to prefer living by the no-labels philosophy.

Our community prefers to build up others, working together to help those less fortunate.

It’s a sentiment The Telegraph fully endorses and praises. …

Online: https://bit.ly/2wps3xP

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MAINE

Bangor Daily News, Sept. 28

The Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act and refashion the nation’s health care spending into a system of block grants to the states and per-capita, Medicaid spending caps might be dead for now.

But that doesn’t mean the ideology that propelled it also has died. The ideology that favors transforming large federal programs into block grants that states can spend largely as they please is alive and well.

On Monday, during the only Senate hearing to take place on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill, Republicans made clear they still favor this approach. GOP senators on the Finance Committee and the expert witnesses they chose to bolster their case spoke repeatedly of the promise of “increased flexibility” through block grants and the potential for state-based innovation.

“If this bill is successful, some states will do a terrific job in developing really innovative solutions to provide great-quality care,” former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who was involved in drafting the Graham-Cassidy bill, said Monday, hours before Maine Sen. Susan Collins came out against the legislation, sealing its fate.

(States would somehow provide great-quality care even as, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Graham-Cassidy proposed to slice $1 trillion from states’ Medicaid funding over the next decade.)

Santorum also extolled the virtues of one of the largest block grant transformations to date: the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which transformed the nation’s Aid to Dependent Families with Children welfare program into a system of block grants the federal government issues to states each year and that states have wide latitude to spend largely as they see fit.

“Just in Maine recently, Gov. (Paul) LePage finally reformed welfare in that state. It took them 20 years to do it, but again, very strong results,” Santorum said. “There may be a lag effect in some states. There may be some inequity. But it creates competition. And it creates the opportunity for states that learn from the innovation of other states.”

Indeed, the number of Maine families receiving cash benefits through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, has dropped 66 percent since May 2012, when a five-year lifetime cap on benefits took effect. LePage has touted the steep drop in the number of people receiving assistance. But to which “very strong results” was Santorum referring?

Was it the reality that two-thirds of people who lost benefits as a result of the five-year cap still didn’t have work three years after the cap took effect? Or could it have been that the third who did have work were earning below poverty-level wages?

Could Santorum have been referring to the LePage administration’s failure to even stay within the loose bounds of TANF law when it came to spending the state’s $78.1 million annual block grant? Or could he have been referring to the administration’s use of the annual block grant on a variety of existing state programs in order to generate budget savings, even as administration officials denied to legislators that that’s what they were actually doing?

As all of this happened, the proportion of Maine children growing up in extreme poverty was rising, even as it mostly held steady nationally. Could that have been one of the “very strong results” Santorum was touting?

Fortunately, Republicans’ attempt to transform yet another federal program into a system of block grants has failed, for now. But the “strong results” Santorum touted are alive and well with TANF: States today spend just half of the TANF funding they receive on the program’s core purposes - financial assistance for low-income families, child care and activities that help adults work - and the funding reaches just 23 percent of families with kids nationwide who live in poverty, down from 68 percent in 1996.

Graham-Cassidy proponents were right to use TANF as an example of what could happen by transforming a federal program into a system of block grants. But the “very strong results” they champion actually paint a picture of a federal program that has become unaccountable and unresponsive to people’s needs, with people’s well-being wholly dependent on the whims of state politics.

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

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VERMONT

Bennington Banner, Sept. 27

The Sheriff’s Department has unveiled a smartphone app that lets people provide crime tips anonymously to police. The hope is that people too afraid to go to authorities will now be able to do so, protected by anonymity.

We hope it works and that police are better able to solve local crimes. We also commend the Bennington County Sheriff’s Department and The Collaborative - an anti-substance abuse group - for reaching out to the community and putting this in place.

If you want to download the app, go to your phone’s app store and search for “tip411 Bennington.” Many other agencies use the tip411 app, so be sure to choose the one listed as “BenningtonCo Sheriff.” The app is pretty bare bones and simple. It lets you send text as well as photos. It will also let you receive alert messages police decide to send out during emergencies.

In January of last year, Bennington was dealing with a string of armed robberies that had left many people feeling afraid and discouraged. One of the things locals attempted to do to solve the problem was create a neighborhood watch program. The watchers held meetings and invited Bennington Police. At one such meeting, Detective Larry Cole shared an interesting point of view regarding crime tips.

Many people police had spoken about the robberies had information on the suspects, said Cole, but they wouldn’t give police an official statement for fear of retaliation. “It’s TV stuff,” he said. “Is it a concern? Certainly. Is it a viable concern? No.”

Cole’s point was essentially that the criminals around here lack the wherewithal to effectively threaten witnesses into silence. They tend to be desperate people more in need of help than they are members of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang or the Los Zetas Cartel. But, understandably, people feel otherwise, and their silence is a hindrance to police, who, despite being well-qualified to investigate crimes, rely on the public for information.

Hopefully this app will catch on around the county and get the information flowing. Similar efforts in the past haven’t always worked. Police at the January 2016 neighborhood watch meeting said there used to a tip line in Bennington - complete with a monetary reward system - that often yielded bogus information from people taking stabs in the dark, either hoping to make a quick buck or hassle their neighbors. We hope these problems don’t repeat themselves.

Online: https://bit.ly/2xQic7P

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CONNECTICUT

The Hartford Courant, Sept. 27

Amid everything that seems to be going wrong in Connecticut, one thing is definitely going right: Crime is down. Way down.

Since 2012, the number of serious crimes in the state has dropped by 20 percent - the biggest drop in the nation, according to FBI data. Connecticut has one of the lowest rates of violent crime.

There are many reasons why - some social, some economic - but the Second Chance Society reforms to the overall approach to criminal justice championed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy deserve a lot of credit.

Efforts to keep people out of jail are paying off with less crime overall. Reforms to parole, to sentencing and to the way police interact with citizens have all contributed - and should continue.

A little extra money can go a long way, and a cash win from an online casino gives you an opportunity to do anything from treating your partner to dinner to making a charitable donation. BorgataCasino.com offers fun online blackjack, online…

One chilling fact deep in the data: Half of the people who have died of opioid overdoses in 2016 are former inmates. That needs to be addressed. Many inmates are not getting the support they need after release.

There is still work to do, but Connecticut is on the right track.

Online: https://cour.at/2xIv1iA

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Cape Cod Times, Sept. 28

Even among a seemingly endless cascade of stories about data breaches, the recent announcement by Equifax that the identities of some 143 million individuals had potentially been compromised struck many as breathtaking in its scope and scale. As one of the big three credit reporting bureaus — along with Transunion and Experian — we as a nation indirectly entrust it with vast stores of private personal and financial data. Perhaps the only upside of this catastrophic compromise will be a fundamentally new approach to how we safeguard our own data.

Rarely a week goes by when it does not include news that some large retailer or government agency has found itself the victim of data hacking. A few years ago, commercial prognosticators wondered if Barnes and Noble and later Target could survive the loss of consumer confidence after both companies found that their store of customer data had been compromised. Both retailers, and countless other companies, seem to have managed to weather their respective crises with little in the way of lasting consequences.

Then came word of two massive breaches. First, the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management revealed in 2015 that the personal data of 18 million people who worked or had worked for the federal government had been compromised. A year later, Yahoo took home the grand prize in terms of disastrous news, announcing that upwards of one billion of its users’ accounts may have been hacked.

So what makes the Equifax fiasco particularly disturbing?

In a word, trust. As a credit reporting agency, Equifax has served as a guardian of data when it comes to checking the very integrity of our credit worthiness. Relied on by individuals and corporations alike, it served as a primary repository of Social Security numbers and personal financial data, including credit scores, past and existing loans, and countless other data points used to determine whether people or organizations deserved to receive loans, and at what rates.

The manner in which Equifax responded to news of the intrusion has done little to re-establish confidence. The company became aware of the breach in July, but chose to withhold any public pronouncement until September, giving perpetrators more than enough time to process, sell, and disseminate the information several times over. Then, the company set up a system by which individuals had to enter six digits of their Social Security numbers to determine if they may have been compromised — not an encouraging process for a company that had already been hacked.

Those with a more fatalistic bent might argue that in the era of the internet, the notion of privacy is a quaint and antiquated notion that shares more connection to a Model T Ford than it does to the modern world. More than a few technology gurus have suggested that the only way to avoid the risk of identity theft is to disconnect from the grid entirely and go back to a barter economy.

Obviously, the modern world seems ill equipped to take such a giant step backward, even if it felt so inclined. The solution instead may lie in a new awareness of the sanctity of the once-jealously guarded Social Security number, which now seems like a requirement for virtually any cash or credit transaction.

Lily Hay Newman of Wired Magazine suggests that the Equifax disaster may serve as a harbinger of a bold new approach when it comes to personal security; that just as we should be using completely different passwords to protect our various email, cell phone, and Amazon accounts, perhaps the corporate, private, and government sectors each need to develop individual protocols to vouchsafe personal information.

Such an approach would require a massive shift in terms of how we view our private and professional lives, essentially compartmentalizing each aspect of our existence in a manner that would at first feel cumbersome and perhaps even more intrusive, with bio-specific data perhaps used for one aspect of our lives and a personal identification code for another.

Furthermore, there is no guarantee that independent and isolated systems would remain any more immune to data hacking than they are now. In fact, the only near-guarantee is that the risk related to any breach would at least be limited to whatever aspect of our lives had been revealed, and thus, we could more easily contain the damage from leaking over into other areas of our lives.

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

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RHODE ISLAND

Providence Journal, Sept. 28

Recent surveys show most Americans have little clue about the workings of their government under the U.S. Constitution. That makes it easier for politicians to erode the protections of citizens and weaken the limits on power built into our system.

Recently, for example, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin sued to try to block President Donald Trump’s phase-out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

While we agree with the intent of that program, which protects those who were brought here illegally by their parents and have effectively become Americans, those protections must be enacted by Congress through legislation. However much their plight tugs at our heartstrings, and however much we agree with the sentiments of Mr. Kilmartin and the Rhode Island delegation about the need to bring these fellow Rhode Islanders out of the twilight of uncertainty, it is vitally important that all of us preserve our essential rights under the Constitution.

The DACA program was imposed as an executive order by President Obama in 2012. Before taking that step, he had tried to work with Congress, explaining repeatedly that he lacked the power to impose such a change by fiat.

“I am not a king,” he told Univision in 2010. At a town hall in 2011, President Obama expanded on the theme. “I swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books. … Now I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own. Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. I promise you. Not just on immigration reform. But that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written.”

Under the Constitution, Congress passes the laws - including members of the House, who are forced to win the voters’ approval every two years, making them especially responsive to public opinion. Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution specifically empowers Congress to “establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization” - to write the laws that govern who may become citizens of the United States.

When elected officials must answer to voters back home, they must heed the public’s wishes to some degree. Removing this protection and allowing a president to behave like a king has a certain appeal to those who believe that Congress and/or the public are wrong about certain issues. But our system of government, however imperfect, has generally worked well to protect the rights of the people and make sure that those in positions of power do not oppress the governed.

It is important that we protect the time-honored process of building public support to reform our laws. The people should continue to play a role through their votes and their steady pressure on representatives and senators. President Trump has even expressed an interest in working with Democratic leaders to turn Mr. Obama’s executive order into a legal measure. We hope that effort bears fruit.

Some may wonder how Mr. Kilmartin has the time to try to short-circuit this process when he has failed to do such things as make sure a sale of St. Joseph Health Services fully protected pensioners. In truth, little time or resources are involved; he merely piggybacked on the efforts of the New York attorney general, who brought on board several Democratic attorneys general.

The case is based on protecting the interests of these fellow residents who could be harmed by the phase-out of the executive order. We too are deeply concerned about their fate, but stress that it is essential to uphold the Constitution and protect our system of self-government, however inefficient and misguided it seems at times.

Online: https://bit.ly/2fWP4Sz

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