- Associated Press - Friday, January 18, 2019

MASSACHUSETTS

The Boston Globe

Jan. 16

Syria, one of the most dangerous places in the world, got more dangerous the moment President Trump abruptly announced the imminent pullout of American troops. The deaths of four Americans Wednesday provided tragic new evidence of just how foolhardy the president’s decision was.

ISIS - yes, the same terrorist group Trump insisted had been vanquished from the region - claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing in the northern town of Manbij that took the lives of two American troops and two civilians who were among 16 people killed.



The attack came while the troops were out on a routine patrol near the central market in the Kurdish-held town. It came a week after the United States began withdrawing some military ground equipment from Syria.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” the president tweeted back in December after announcing his intention to pull out the 2,000 American troops serving there. The coalition aimed at defeating the Islamic State had indeed been successful in robbing the would-be caliphate of much of the territory it had laid claim to.

But military officials knew then - and certainly will confirm now - that ISIS is far from defeated.

The problem remains what it has been from the start. As US Representative Seth Moulton, who served as a Marine in the Middle East, told the Globe’s editorial board earlier this week: “The president does not have a strategy for Syria… . The conflict in Syria is a terrible mess, but even worse would be to bring the troops back prematurely.”

Moulton said he wants to bring troops home, “but I want to do it as part of a serious strategy that means they can actually stay home once they get here.”

The Trump “strategy” - such as it is - reportedly was hatched during a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an autocrat of the first order who would like nothing better than to have US troops out of the way as he launches military action against the Kurds.

Cheering encouragement of the US withdrawal from the sidelines was Russian President Vladimir Putin, a supporter of Syria’s despotic leader Bashar al-Assad. Putin wants desperately to assure his foothold in the region.

So with one ill-advised move, Trump made three autocrats exceedingly happy, sold out our allies the Kurds, and made the Middle East a far more dangerous place.

Is it any wonder that recently departed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wanted no part of this era of mass confusion, noting in his letter of resignation, “While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.”

He cited both the 74-nation “Defeat ISIS” coalition and NATO, which Trump has also threatened several times with a US pull-out.

Absent any coherent strategy from the president, national security adviser John Bolton has insisted to allies that no troops will be withdrawn until there are guarantees of safety for America’s Kurdish allies and assurances that ISIS is indeed defeated.

This latest attack is surely evidence that those conditions are unlikely to be met in the near future. American troops shouldn’t stay in Syria forever, but this is the wrong time and the wrong way to pull them out.

Online: https://bit.ly/2W0PJG6

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CONNECTICUT

The Republican-American

Early-voting laws apparently are the solution to every problem Connecticut has in running its elections - and every inconvenience, large or small, voters may encounter as they fill in the oval on behalf of their preferred political standard-bearers. For Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill, a 180-degree contradiction is no obstacle to the electoral scheme of her dreams.

Tuesday, Ms. Merrill announced her latest attempt to introduce early voting in Connecticut. Her proposal is rather modest, by national standards: Voters would be able to cast their ballots any time within the last three days of a campaign. In Georgia last fall, voting in the Nov. 4 election began Oct. 15.

Ms. Merrill may have tempered her proposal out of awareness that early voting can be deeply problematical. It can lead to fraudulent actions so egregious, officials have to consider rerunning an election, as may prove necessary in Georgia’s 9th Congressional District this year. It also can start the countdown before the last campaign news event plays out. Recall the May 2017 special election in Montana, in which two-thirds of the votes were cast before Republican congressional nominee Greg Gianforte allegedly body-slammed a reporter and was charged with misdemeanor assault. And indeed, he won the election.

In short, early-voting laws can serve the interests of voter-fraud artists and candidates whose misbehavior, revealed or committed in the waning moments of a campaign, effectively can be concealed from large numbers of voters. It’s also a certainty that a nominee will be vindicated of past accusations, or even will do or say something heroic, in the last moments of a campaign.

But none of that addresses the unexplained contradiction in Ms. Merrill’s proposal:

In a Sept. 21, 2011 op-ed column rebutting a Republican-American editorial opposing an early-voting proposal, she wrote: “We have a crisis of dwindling voter participation in this country. If you look at the Sept. 13 municipal primary results in Connecticut, only 17.8 percent of registered Hartford Democrats bothered to show up to cast ballots in the mayor’s race.”

In her Jan. 15 news release unveiling her latest early-voting proposal, she wrote: “A record number of Connecticut citizens registered to vote leading up to the 2018 election, and we had record turnout, despite long lines and heavy rains. We should continue to remove barriers to Connecticut voters exercising their most fundamental right to vote .”

So which is it? Does Connecticut need early voting to combat voter apathy, or to manage the polls efficiently in a time of voter enthusiasm? Ms. Merrill’s short answer, it would seem, is: “Both.”

Connecticut voters responded to a 2014 constitutional-amendment proposal with a different word: “Neither.” They rejected the amendment. The contradictory arguments presented by Ms. Merrill, in the absence of a clear message from the public, offer no grounds for revisiting this issue in Connecticut.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Mh3JXB

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal

Jan. 18

When Amazon selected Long Island City, just across the East River from Manhattan, and Crystal City, in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac from Washington, as the sites for its new headquarters, it seemed to confirm a well-worn narrative about the American economy.

The United States is increasingly a land of economic winners and losers, the story goes. Big metropolitan areas, like New York, Washington, Seattle, Houston, Boston and San Francisco are thriving. Smaller cities - say, Youngstown, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; or Wheeling, West Virginia - are stagnating, or worse. Indeed, the woes of people in the heartland, long ignored by the coastal elites, played into the unlikely political rise of Donald Trump.

But a closer look under the hood of the U.S. economy complicates the story. That’s because economic analysis indicates that even among smaller or mid-size cities, widespread disparities exist. This is not simply a story of big versus little.

A Dec. 16 New York Times article (“Nashville’s Star Rises as Midsize Cities Break Into Winners and Losers”) told the story well. It compared the economic performance of two mid-size cities in the American south: Nashville, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama.

Nashville, for its part, is booming; its population is skyrocketing and business are flocking there. It’s now a hugely diverse economy, no longer ruled solely by the country music industry. Birmingham, not so much. Alabama’s largest city is shrinking, and the economy is dominated by restaurants and retail, two industries that don’t do much to generate growth.

As the Times put it: “Birmingham and cities like it, including Providence, R.I., and Rochester, are falling further behind.”

The Times piece points to public policy decisions that played a part in the cities’ divergence. “Local leaders … made some smart decisions like merging the city and county government in the 1960s, allowing Nashville and its suburbs to work together rather than at cross-purposes,” it writes. It probably did not hurt that Tennessee also has no state income tax.

Birmingham, by contrast, hammered by the decline of the local steel industry, “tried to pivot by luring banks and insurers, but that bet soured during the financial crisis, and the city hasn’t recovered the jobs it lost then.” Nashville’s civic and business leaders have made it a point of pride to sell their city, luring businesses from across the country.

Despite Providence’s remarkable downtown renaissance, the economic trends here are troubling, too.

Rhode Island’s population is essentially stagnant. The state is set to lose one of its two House seats by 2023. By national measures, both its business climate and GDP growth rate are very poor.

Rhode Island has many of the same advantages that Nashville does; a vibrant culture, a rich academic culture, a strategic location. Before the hit TV show “Nashville,” there was the TV show “Providence,” which ran for five seasons. Yet Rhode Island’s capital city still lags.

Public policy is key, as Nashville shows. Rhode Island is commendably trying to build a knowledge economy with high-paying jobs by leveraging its strengths in health and higher education. It should also focus on reducing regulations, restraining its property tax burden, improving public schools and reforming government.

Providence has tremendous potential, but it will take leadership and vision to develop it.

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

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VERMONT

The Caledonian-Record

Jan. 18

Bernie Sanders spent the last couple weeks (sort of) apologizing for multiple reports of mistreatment, harassment and abuse of women on his 2016 Presidential campaign. We say “sort of” because the accused perpetrators remain close to Sanders, and his initial response to the reports was to be annoyed.

“I was a little busy running around the country .” he offered in (albeit feeble) defense.

Once his handlers told him how tone-deaf he sounded, apologizing to “any woman who feels like she was not treated appropriately,” (our emphasis) Sanders tried to spin his utter lack of accountability and principle into political advantage.

“Clearly we need a cultural revolution in this country to change workplace attitudes and behavior,” he said last week. “I intend in every way to be actively involved in that process.”

This is hardly the first time we’ve seen Comrade Sanders bending his “progressive” principles to his political needs.

- According to Federal Election Commission records, Bernie Sanders spent around $300,000 on posh private jets over nine days this past October. According to the Daily Caller, he paid the bill on the same day he declared climate change a “planetary crisis.”

- Sanders spent over $5 million on private luxury jets during his 2016 Presidential campaign. . During that time Sanders was making $3,365 a week as a Senator (missing 104 out of 117 floor votes).

- Two years ago Bernie and Jane Sanders bought a $600,000 summer home on Lake Champlain, increasing their number of homes to three.

- Jane Sanders, notoriously, got rich running Burlington College into the ground and - in true capitalist fashion - by monetizing her husband’s faux “socialism.”

- In 2015 Sanders introduced legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour. At the time he was paying campaign workers $10.10/hour (the minimum Sanders could legally pay and remain in compliance with an Obama Executive Order on contracted federal employees) and interns $12/hour.

- Twin pillars of his platform - a carbon tax and universal health care - both failed in his “home” state. Not that he would know . considering he rarely makes time to visit.

As we’ve repeatedly said, the only thing “socialist” about Sanders is the way he’s raking in millions for not working. It’s all so progressive.

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

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

Nashua Telegraph

While former Ohio Gov. John Kasich contemplates running for president on the Republican side, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is seriously considering a campaign for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Ohio’s significance and history in presidential politics is quite different from New Hampshire’s. The Granite State’s claim to fame is the quadrennial first-in-the-nation presidential primary, which often goes a long way toward determining nominees for the Republican and Democratic nominations. New Hampshire also is the birthplace of Franklin Pierce, the nation’s 14th president.

Ohio, meanwhile, is the birthplace for seven of the nation’s 45 presidents and was the residence of an eighth at the time of his election. However, more impressive is Ohio’s role in electing presidents. Since the 1892 general election, just twice has the state not voted with the winner of the Electoral College.

That’s right. Only two times since 1892 has a candidate become president without carrying Ohio in the Electoral College. Only Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 and John F. Kennedy in 1960 managed to reach the White House while losing in Ohio.

It seems fairly obvious that winning Ohio does a lot for a candidate’s chances of becoming president. That is why Democrats should take a look at Brown.

According to the announcement, Brown is planning “tour stops” in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina - which just so happen to be the first four states scheduled to conduct their Democratic presidential nominating exercises.

Brown’s website touts the fact that he won re-election in Ohio last year with more than 53 percent of the vote. By comparison, in 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton received only 43 percent of the Buckeye State’s vote.

We are not sure Brown is what the base of today’s Democratic Party wants in a presidential nominee because he is, well . a 66-year-old white guy from the Midwest.

Still, we believe Democrats would be wise to consider a candidate with a proven track record of connecting with blue-collar voters in battleground states in a way Clinton simply could not.

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

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Maine

Bangor Daily News

Jan. 18

Innovation is a popular word in Augusta right now.

On Thursday, Gov. Janet Mills announced that former Maine Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree will lead a restructured and rebranded version of the Office of Policy and Management under a new name: the Office of Innovation and the Future.

In December, Democratic leaders in the Legislature announced that the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee committee is being re-formatted as the Innovation, Development and Economic Advancement and Commerce (IDEA) Committee. Republicans later secured the addition of “Business” in place of “Commerce at the end of that already long name - a worthy and more direct nod to the obvious role that business plays in the committee’s work.

Clearly, the unified Democratic power in Augusta is making a rhetorical push to be forward looking. That’s not a bad thing, especially considering how we’ve been mired in some of the same issues and conversations year after year. But the true test will be one of policy, not branding.

The change from an office of policy and management to one of innovation is a back-to-the-future move of sorts from the Mills Administration which, if approved by the Legislature, will likely be modeled after the State Planning Office first developed in the 1960s under then-Gov. Ken Curtis.

It’s a bit like renaming and reinventing the wheel at the same time, but it does demonstrate a much-needed commitment to long term strategic planning and, importantly, coordination across different departments.

That coordination is particularly important on longstanding issues like growing and strengthening the skills within Maine’s workforce, which hasn’t been short on attention or ideas from around the state but feels mired in the same conversations about Maine’s aging population of workers and a mismatch of skills and available jobs.

For example, here’s an excerpt from the BDN archives:

“Meanwhile, a legislative panel was recently told that Maine does not have enough skilled workers to fill jobs that go unfilled in several parts of the state. What’s more, some regions of Maine have chronic unemployment or underemployment that make living precarious and drive younger residents away,” wrote this editorial board - not last year, not five years ago, but in 2007. We can make the same assessment right now.

Workforce challenges require action across multiple disciplines including education and economic development, and as such fall within the jurisdiction of several legislative committees and departments. There have been numerous reports and policy proposals suggested, with a dizzying list of partners and stakeholders involved. Yet we are still talking about the same demographic cliff and labor shortage imperatives that we have been for years.

From that perspective, working towards a more robust planning arm of the state government could be a good step in the right direction. The administration and Legislature would do well to establish a clear and concise list of workforce priorities.

Groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Educate Maine, Maine Development Foundation and others have already leveraged their collective resources and expertise to develop workforce proposals. But the list of ideas is long - and expensive - and this conversation will need coordinated direction rather than jumping, issue by issue, from one department or committee to the next.

While it’s not enough to do new things for the sake of doing new things on issues such as workforce development, we need to move the needle after years of the same debates, proposals and, yes, same editorials.

An influx of new structure for some of our institutions could be a very good place to start. But the details will matter. The Mills administration and legislative leaders - particularly the Democrats in power - will need to take care to match their innovation rhetoric with action, and to realize that some of the hard work has already been done.

Online: https://bit.ly/2FAJ6Fy

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