Editorials from around New England:
The Connecticut Post
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, is not to everyone’s taste.
His critics call him boorish and grandstanding. A watchdog who barks too often, too loudly.
Imagine how it feels to be barked at.
It was this way long before he became a U.S. senator in 2013, pretty early in his 20-year tenure as Connecticut’s attorney general.
We prefer his approach to the alternative.
This week, Blumenthal chose to bark - again - at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
We’ve all howled at the railroad at one point or another, haven’t we? Usually because it’s running late when we’re on our way to work, or a job interview, or a show. The senator has been barking for years for the MTA to stop making excuses about delays in the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC), which could halt trains in event of human error.
“I know that Metro-North has been resistant, but clearly the railroad needs to face its responsibility for better performance on safety and reliability. I would oppose any delay in this kind of vital safety measure,” Blumenthal warned five years ago.
At the time, riders were able to fully grasp the urgency of the technology, as an accident in the Bronx, New York, killed four passengers and injured several others. An engineer had fallen asleep at the throttle.
The clock started ticking on PTC implementation five years earlier than the crash. It now ticks toward Dec. 31, the end of its decade-long deadline.
On Wednesday, Blumenthal growled again.
“They have no excuses left. Congress passed a law 10 years ago, and the MTA has been given $1 billion by the federal government to complete this work,” he said in a statement. “MTA must hold accountable officials who are responsible for this outrageous delay.”
The issue arose as the railroad attributed its worst on-time figures in five years to PTC work. Some 14 percent of trains were reportedly six minutes late last month.
Riders numb to decades of delays likely didn’t notice. And even the most frustrated among them has the wisdom to choose safety over arrival times.
Use that extra wait time to parse the railroad’s convoluted response: “Assertions that Metro-North is saying it will ‘miss the deadline,’ and potentially subject itself to fines, are incorrect. Any railroad meeting these criteria has the right to submit an alternative schedule for up to two additional years to have PTC fully activated across all parts of the railroad upon filing the paperwork with federal regulators. We expect to file the paperwork in the fall, once we have met the federal requirements to file.”
We can’t help but feel this train will pull into the station a little late.
So we’re happy to hear the likes of U.S. Sen Chuck Schumer, D-New York, join Blumenthal for a duet of barking, saying Metro-North should “move heaven and earth” to get the job done.
Keeping the pressure on can only help. Release the hounds.
The Boston Globe
Like many Americans, farmers stand to lose from the trade war provoked by President Trump - in their case, because retaliatory measures could make it harder for them to sell soybeans, pork, and other agricultural products to customers in China and elsewhere.
Unlike most Americans, though, Midwestern farmers generally supported President Trump in 2016.
And, in another milestone in the crumbling of American political norms under this president, that’s all that seems to matter. On Tuesday, the administration said it would seek to aid farmers, potentially to the tune of $12 billion, to cushion them from the impact of the trade battle with Asia, Canada, and Europe.
Other Americans hurt by the tariffs - say, those who lobster or buy solar panels or washing machines - can take a number and wait.
The trade war is objectionable as a matter of economic policy. But the blatantly selective way the administration is responding to the havoc it causes has raised more fundamental concerns, adding to the evidence that the president and his administration lack any sense that they do, or should, aspire to represent the interests of all Americans.
Trump sees himself, it’s abundantly clear, as the president for only the minority of Americans who voted for him - and his trade, tax, and foreign policy show it.
That’s not normal.
At least rhetorically, presidents of both parties have shouldered a more inclusive responsibility - even if, in practice, they sometimes fell short. Vowing to work on behalf of all Americans is - or at least, was - a standard part of the job. Instead, the Trump administration has spun up an office devoted to stripping naturalized Americans of their citizenship.
That’s fitting for a White House that has abandoned any pretense of serving all Americans. The administration uses tax reform to punish blue states, channels aid to constituencies that supported him in the election, and reshapes even foreign policy for domestic political purposes. The president’s embrace of President Vladimir Putin of Russia seems to follow directly from political expediency, not any sense of what’s right for America, or a recognition that there’s any difference.
The Republican party has seemed content to downplay Russian election tampering as long as it was in service of their party. But that might be changing. As South Carolina Republican congressman Trey Gowdy described it over the weekend: “There is no way you can listen to the evidence and not conclude, not that the Democrats were the victims, but the United States of America were the victims,” he said.
For this president, though, there is no national interest - just the interests of Trump voters (winners!) and Clinton voters (losers!).
On a campaign trail without end, the greater good is an unwelcome fellow traveler. How else to explain Attorney General Jeff Sessions disgracing himself on Tuesday, joining in the “lock her up” campaign chant? Or the president’s puerile threat to take security clearances away from former Obama administration officials? These are the words and actions of men for whom politics never stopped, and governing never started.
In the end, the damage the administration is doing isn’t fundamentally about pork or corn or soybeans. The lasting damage is in its rejection of the responsibility of the executive branch of government to serve the needs of all Americans and attempt to weigh the trade-offs in making policy. The president refuses to preside, and his administration refuses to administer, as if all Americans matter. And once that norm is gone, how long will it take to get it back?
The Providence Journal
The Rhode Island Ethics Commission advanced the cause of open government last week, backing a plan that requires financial disclosure forms that are filed by public officials and candidates for public office to be posted online. These forms reveal income sources, investments, real estate holdings and other information pertaining to people in state and local government and their families, and can point to potential conflicts.
Long sought by those of us who want to see Rhode Island shift toward openness and accountability, this change means that anyone with access to the internet will be able to review these forms - which must be filed by those holding elected office, candidates for elected office and many who work or serve at the state and local level. No longer will citizens need to ask the Ethics Commission to provide them, either at its office or by email.
That should greatly increase public scrutiny. The old system effectively kept busy people from accessing these public disclosures themselves - something that makes no sense in the age of internet.
This is not the first attempt at such a change. The commission started posting the forms of state lawmakers and the state’s general officers several years ago, but stopped when critics complained that the forms of many other elected and public officials were not being posted.
Last week, the commission finally decided to post the forms of everyone online.
It acted on its own - something it contended it has a right to do - after yet more foot-dragging this year in one chamber of the state legislature. A bill to require such postings passed in the House under Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, but failed to pass in the Senate under President Dominick Ruggerio.
The commission’s executive director, Jason Gramitt, said he is working with his technology staff to post the forms online before the November election and is working on long-term plans to make them easily searchable.
“Making them public today means putting them online,” he said. “I don’t believe we have to wait for the General Assembly to tell us to do it.”
This is a win for Rhode Island. As we all know, sunlight discourages corruption in these areas and increases public confidence in state and local government.
Greater public scrutiny may prod elected officials to take their reporting responsibilities more seriously. Two years ago, more than 30 state lawmakers neglected to provide the required information, despite the fact that the forms are signed under penalty of perjury. They failed to list items such as homes, debts, jobs and other sources of income. As a result, they had to amend their filings.
An informed citizenry helps fight corruption. Elected officials might not have gotten away with the long list of omissions of two years ago if their forms had been posted for all the world to see, rather than sitting in a computer at the Ethics Commission.
The commission’s plans to make the forms searchable will provide citizens with a powerful tool to draw connections and better piece together the motivations of those who influence public policy.
There is no substitute for ease of access. Using long-available technology to provide it can only encourage greater honesty and transparency, while helping to discourage the behavior we’ve seen too much of over the years.
Yesterday the New York Daily News fired half of its staff. The Daily News, which once boasted the largest print-circulation of any paper in the nation, slashed all photographers; three-quarters of sportswriters; and dozens of editors and reporters.
Former editor-in-chief, Jim Rich, was one of 50 newsroom staffers to lose a job. “If you hate democracy and think local governments should operate unchecked and in the dark, then today is a good day for you,” Rich wrote.
That just about sums up the national tragedy of American apathy fueling the nationwide failure of newspapers. As discouraging as these bloodlettings are, we’re certain the worst carnage will follow when the last of us falls.
The Portland Press Herald
The government appears to be on track to meet a court-ordered Thursday deadline for returning children seized at the border to their parents. But it is too soon for anybody to declare “Mission Accomplished.”
Even if a federal judge in San Diego is satisfied that the families who are the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit in his court have been reunited, there are still hundreds of other children who remain in custody.
About 2,500 children were separated from their parents this spring after the Trump administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy, which treated families crossing the border as criminals even if they were applying for political asylum. About 1,000 had been reunited by Tuesday, but many others had not. They include the children of 914 parents who either are not eligible to be part of the lawsuit or whose status regarding the suit has not yet been determined.
And at least another 463 parents - there may be more - may have left the country and can’t be located. It has been reported that some may have agreed to be deported after being told that if they did, their children would rejoin them.
For the government, this is a bureaucratic mess and a public relations disaster that resulted from a poorly designed policy. But for these families, this is more than an embarrassing episode. It is a tragedy that could leave lifelong scars on people whose only mistake was coming to America when they were running for their lives.
What makes it even more appalling is that the Trump administration decided to implement these draconian measures because somebody thought that throwing children in cages would send a message to families in Central America that they ought to stay home. The administration also tried to shift blame for the inhumane acts it ordered onto the parents themselves for bringing their children with them.
This policy is just one of many wrongheaded moves made by the Trump administration and its allies in Congress when it comes to immigration policy. Trump canceled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protected from deportation 800,000 or so law-abiding immigrants who were brought to this country as children by parents who did not have legal status. The Justice Department also has pressured local police agencies to act as immigration agents, even though they do not have the resources to do that. And the government has begun targeting for deportation longtime residents who are law-abiding but undocumented, including veterans of the armed forces.
All of this has been done to fulfill rash and emotional promises to “Make America Great Again” by shutting down illegal immigration, no matter the human cost. These policies have not made America greater, but they have caused suffering and damaged our nation’s reputation around the world.
So even if the administration satisfies one judge this week, no one should consider this mission to be accomplished.
The Portsmouth Herald
While New Hampshire collects sales taxes on rooms and meals, it jealously guards against a broad-based tax on other sales, and considers the absence of a sales tax part of the so-called “New Hampshire Advantage.”
So many New Hampshire citizens, businesses and elected representatives were naturally annoyed at being forced to begin collecting sales taxes on online purchases to customers in other states that have broad-based sales taxes, as mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair.
This ruling does not, in any way, mean New Hampshire needs to impose a sales tax. It does not have to and it shouldn’t.
The June 21 decision upheld a South Dakota law mandating that out-of-state sellers of goods and services in excess of $100,000 in value, or more than 200 separate transactions, must collect and remit South Dakota’s sales tax.
This Supreme Court decision overturned two precedent cases that both were decided before the rise of online commerce. These precedent cases found that states could only collect sales taxes from businesses with a physical presence in the state. Obviously, the rise of online giants like Wayfair, have dramatically changed how retail dollars are spent and taxed.
The Supreme Court justices did not rule along ideological lines.
Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch comprised the majority.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were in the minority.
In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy noted:”… the Commerce Clause was designed to prevent States from engaging in economic discrimination so they would not divide into isolated, separable units. But it is ‘not the purpose of the Commerce Clause to relieve those engaged in interstate commerce from their share of state tax burden.’”
Writing for the minority, Justice Roberts argued that because e-commerce has thrived under existing laws, any legal changes”… with the potential to disrupt the development of such a critical segment of the economy should be undertaken by Congress.”
In response to the Wayfair decision, Gov. Chris Sununu created a task force and gave it about a week to study the impact of the complex ruling and then offer recommendations to a Special Session of the Legislature held yesterday, July 25. The state Senate went along for the ride, voting unanimously to approve a set of recommendations to try to help state businesses respond to the Wayfair decision.
But in the House, unusual alliances formed both for and against the proposals. In the end, a coalition of conservative Liberty Caucus Republicans and Progressive Democrats stripped the proposal down to a simple study commission, which the Senate then rejected.
The Liberty Caucus’s members rejected the bill because they said it trampled constitutional protections of interstate commerce. They argued that the bill, rather than creating “a roadblock” to the collection of out-of-state taxes, actually created “a toll booth” by establishing a framework through which those taxes could be collected.
The Progressives also objected on constitutional grounds, as well as political. In a letter to this paper, Concord State Rep. Christy Dolat Bartlett wrote: “Other states are going to comply with the Court’s ruling, but Sununu is using this issue to further his re-election campaign. He is trying to spread an alarm that doesn’t exist, so similar to his mentor, Donald Trump. The headline-grabbing hyperbole is text-book Trump.”
In an op-ed in this paper, Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky wrote, “It appears the Governor hasn’t learned anything about starting trade wars and how they often backfire. New Hampshire businesses are not clamoring for the Governor’s protectionism.”
So in practical terms, the Special Session didn’t accomplish much.
While we don’t believe the state has the power to obstruct other states from collecting sales taxes they are now legally entitled to, we’re certain that there are steps the governor and Legislature can take to help New Hampshire businesses engaged in out-of-state e-commerce. Unfortunately, it appears in this political climate that help likely won’t come until after the elections in November.
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