Editorial Roundup: New England

December 20, 2019 GMT

Editorials from around New England:


Each community should show state welcomes refugees

Connecticut Post

Dec. 16

We should not forget that this country was built by people from overseas seeking freedom from religious persecution.

From the beginning, Americans’ culture, language, political and religious beliefs have differed, even as we always shared a common humanity.

Three hundred and ninety-nine years later this country is making it harder for those fleeing intolerable situations to find shelter in America.

The federal government is setting a ceiling to allow only 18,000 refugees in 2020. The number has been dropping, from 45,000 in 2018 to 30,000 this year. The massive decrease next year is an effrontery to our core values.

We see no acceptable reason to so severely restrict refugees. There is no less conflict around the world. As it is, it takes several years for refugees to go through security clearance to enter our country, often requiring stays in refugee camps for families and children.

Connecticut has been welcoming. More than 1,200 have been resettled in 50 communities across the state through the New Haven-based nonprofit Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, which works with homegrown local groups and churches.

We are pleased that Gov. Ned Lamont reaffirmed the state’s commitment last week in an unflinching letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“It is a bedrock principle of the United States of America that we welcome to our shores those fleeing tyranny, persecution and violence,” Lamont wrote in his Dec. 11 letter.

“We know from our own experience here in Connecticut that refugees enrich the communities that offer them shelter — socially, culturally and economically,” Lamont told Pompeo. “We have the capacity, the will and the desire to continue welcoming those fleeing persecution and violence to our state.”

On the right side of history, Connecticut’s commitment was made manifest four years ago when then-Gov. Dannel Malloy welcomed a Syrian family fleeing war after then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence turned them away. The couple and their 5-year-old son had waited three years for permission to come to the United States.

An impetus for Lamont’s letter was an executive order that limits the State Department from placing refugees without the consent of state and local officials. The order is being challenged in court.

The mayors of New Haven, Hartford and West Hartford have written letters to the State Department affirming their consent to resettle refugees.

We call on the leaders of the other 166 cities and towns in the state to do the same. But first, communities could have dialogues about exactly what it means to welcome refugees. Concerns about cost or other aspects could be addressed. (Most of the resettlement expenses are covered with donations through nonprofits.)

Communities should come together and with a show of strength and declare that all of Connecticut welcomes refugees. It is part of our history, it is central to our values and our common humanity.

Online: https://bit.ly/38ZIkxe



Air pollution cannot be ignored out of existence


Dec. 20

For years, air quality in the U.S. steadily improved. And just like that, deaths related to air pollution fell off too.

However, in 2017 and 2018, new data show, the amount of fine-particle air pollution got worse, with concentrations rising 5.5 percent after falling by 24.2 percent the previous five years.

The reversal made a real difference in the lives of thousands of Americans. Using reliable formulas that reflect the relationship between pollution and mortality, researchers say in 2018 alone worsening air quality can be linked to more than 10,000 additional deaths.

Fine-particle air pollution — from tailpipes of cars and trucks, and smokestacks at factories and power plants — is very harmful. Measuring less than 1/30th the width of a human hair, it can be inhaled and absorbed into the bloodstream. It has been linked to heart disease and stroke, respiratory disease and lung cancer, as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It can lead to lower test scores and work productivity.

Regulations have gone a long way in limiting the bad effects of air pollution. But even as pollution fell, by one measurement dropping the number of deaths related to it by 47 percent in the two decades prior to 2010, it could still be blamed in part for 71,000 deaths that year — as many as fatal shootings and car accidents combined. In 2015, even as every county in the U.S. met federal air quality standards, pollution was responsible for more than 30,000 deaths.

It’s a problem, and now it’s getting worse, again.

Americans drove more and used more natural gas the last two years, part of the reason pollution is on the rise. Wildfires, mainly in California, also played a role.

But also cited as a factor were actions by the Environmental Protection Agency, beginning during the Obama administration and given the throttle under President Donald Trump.

Enforcement of the Clean Air Act began to fall off under Obama but fell precipitously under Trump. The Trump administration also has rolled back 24 rules and regulations related to air quality, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Last year, the EPA disbanded a panel of experts that advised the agency on fine-particle pollution, replacing it with consultants from the fossil fuel, pharmaceutical and tobacco industries.

And when the EPA found that eliminating the Clean Power Plan — which sought to lower carbon emissions from power generators — would cost an additional 1,400 premature deaths, the Trump administration decided to change the way such calculations are made.

In short, against all scientific evidence, the EPA now says that cleaner air does not lead to better health.

That is simply not the case. Ignoring the very real problems caused by air pollution will only allow it to get worse, affecting the health of tens of thousands of Americans each year.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Z7iwL8



State must act to protect personal data

Newburyport Daily News

Dec. 18

Your personal information is big business. Every one of your clicks on Facebook, every keystroke of a Google search, every “Buy Now” button you hit on Amazon Prime is worth money to someone.

Yet what you willingly (or inadvertently) share with private businesses, however, pales in comparison to what you let the state Department of Revenue see — Social Security numbers, birth dates, and information about your business and your children. The data is an almost literal gold mine for identity thieves and other ne’er do wells.

“Taxpayers have no choice but to provide this information to DOR, so it has a responsibility to do everything it can to keep it safe. If this information was improperly disclosed by the agency or one of its vendors, it could wreak havoc on the lives of millions of Bay State residents,” state Auditor Suzanne Bump said in a statement earlier this month. “In recent years, we’ve seen what can happen when DOR does not properly protect this information.”

The risks are real. Hackers are constantly trying to dig their way into the state’s computer systems.

“Every day, we have attacks,” Curtis Wood, the state’s secretary of technology services and security, said this fall. “We receive about 525 million probes a day from foreign soil.”

The state is not doing nearly enough to fight off those cyberattacks and others like it, according to a troubling new report from Bump’s office.

The audit, released earlier this week, found the DOR had no strategy to address the risk inherent in handling the private data of millions of citizens and businesses, and did not properly assess the risks of working with private vendors who had access to that information. The DOR, the audit said, also did not efficiently work with other departments — such as the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security — to combat the problem.

The audit, which covered the department’s activities from July 2016 to 2018, also found the Revenue Department did not have a written plan for responding to security incidents, and had not tested how well its systems stood up to hacking attempts.

Bump was more blunt in an interview Sunday with WCVB.

“The whole infrastructure for data security was missing at the Department of Revenue,” she said.

In its response to the audit, the DOR said it is already addressing many of the issues raised and noted the investigation didn’t turn up any instances of personal information being used inappropriately.

While that is true, it is not necessarily comforting. There have been plenty of recent examples where private data was exposed by government error, ranging from private business information to child support payment records containing Social Security numbers.

The Baker administration’s recent record for handling management issues — think of the horrific record keeping at the Department of Motor Vehicles and the slow-motion crash that is the MBTA — does little to inspire confidence.

So what can be done? The first step is for the DOR to develop a data security plan that includes testing for security breaches and accidental dissemination of information. There also needs to be better communication between executive branch departments with access to sensitive data.

But before we put all the blame on the governor’s office, it must be noted the Legislature also has a role to play. This spring, Baker filed a $1.5 billion IT bond bill that included a $135 million “information security center.” The bill is in front of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Too often it takes a disaster for state government to act. It wasn’t until seven people died in a horrific accident in New Hampshire that it was learned the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles wasn’t processing reports of out-of-state infractions, allowing drivers who had no business being behind the wheel to stay on the road.

The state can’t wait to act until there is a major data breach. The time to act is now before a major event affects the lives of thousands of state residents.

Online: https://bit.ly/2s8W7AP



The real story about the war in Afghanistan

Concord Monitor

Dec. 15

Last week, seven members of a New Hampshire National Guard aviation unit were deployed to Afghanistan where, after a week’s training at the Army’s base at Fort Bliss, Texas, they will fly intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Their departure coincides with the publication of a series of Washington Post articles based on government documents that show that much of what the public has been told about the longest war in American history was false. There has been some progress in the past 18 years. Several million Afghan girls once denied an education are now in school. But the war is no closer to being won, and Afghan democracy is largely a sham.

The al-Qaida forces once led by Osama bin Laden have been routed. But as the Post series documented, America’s effort to bring peace and democracy to Afghanistan faces, in addition to ignorance and illiteracy, two more enemies: the Taliban and its medieval view of the Muslim religion, and pandemic corruption made worse by showering hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on a primitive society with little care for accountability.

When we think of the New Hampshire guard members we can’t help but hear the question former senator and secretary of state John Kerry put to Congress on his return from combat in Vietnam: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake.” We pray for the soldiers safe return and ask, how many more?

So far the war has claimed 2,400 American lives and left more than 20,000 with wounds that, in some cases, will require a lifetime of care. The U.S. has spent roughly $1 trillion on the war and aid efforts that include paying the salaries of several hundred thousand Afghan soldiers and police. Corruption is widespread in both, according to documents and recordings obtained by the Post. Soldiers sell their uniforms and weapons, desert and re-enlist. Theft is rampant and drug use common.

The Post stories are based on thousands of pages of interviews conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Diplomats, military commanders, aid workers, contractors and others with experience in Afghanistan were asked to provide an honest assessment of the state of affairs and America’s prospects going forward. Their accounts differ drastically from public pronouncements about the course of the war and progress at nation-building.

The Post has done the nation a great service. It took the newspaper, using the Freedom of Information Act, three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to pry the information loose from the inspector’s office and the fight is ongoing. Did three presidential administrations purposely mislead the American people about the status of the war? Were they, from presidents on down, unable to accept reality or admit errors and a lack of progress? As one interviewee, Army General Doug Lute, told inspectors, “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan – we didn’t know what we were doing.”

In 1971, the release of the Pentagon Papers, a secret government history of the war in Vietnam, exposed government lies and helped bring an end to that war. The so-called Afghanistan Papers are likely to have less effect. Thanks to a volunteer military the Afghan war touches few households and the war’s costs are not on tax bills but hidden in deficit spending that will be passed on to future generations.

There are now some 13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, soon to include seven more from New Hampshire. Can they all be brought home? If not, how many should remain, if only to sound the alarm if the remote mountain nation once again becomes a terrorist stronghold? The Post’s reporting should lead to a national discussion, one based on fact not fantasy, on how and if the United States should extricate itself from its failed attempt at nation-building.

Online: https://bit.ly/35ILW4N



Governor wants more of public’s money Providence Journal

Dec. 17

Gov. Gina Raimondo has garnered national media attention for years as a “different kind of Democrat” — one who sought to boost her state’s economy not by inflicting punishing new taxes on the populace but by supporting targeted cuts, including a reduction in the corporate income tax and a phaseout of Rhode Island’s onerous car tax.

The Tax Foundation even gave her (and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello) an award in 2018 for reforming the state’s unemployment taxes, expected to save businesses $30 million a year.

She seems to have entered a new phase, however.

In an interview last week with The Providence Journal (“Raimondo on projected shortfall: ‘We need some money,’” Dec. 14), the governor was suddenly touting higher taxes (or, as politicians put it, “revenue”) to close a $180-million to $200-million shortfall in the state’s $10-billion budget.

“You cannot balance a budget that is $200 million in the hole without doing some difficult things ... you (would) not like to do,” she said. “It’s getting harder and harder to cut, so you have to find some revenue ... ”

The politicians have known for years about rising projected deficits based on unsustainable state spending. But they have added new programs anyway. The governor, for example, still wants to expand “free” college tuition, which means taxpayers — many of whom already scrimped and saved to cover the cost of their own children’s education — would be compelled to foot the bill.

She also wants to expand state spending on affordable housing. That is unquestionably a worthy goal. But the taxpayers who reside in the real world understand you can’t have everything. You have to set priorities. There will always be greater needs than money to cover them.

The governor, meanwhile, would hammer taxpayers in other areas. In an act of betrayal, she flipped her previous position against “evergreen” public-employee contracts, which cities and towns warn will hamstring their efforts to negotiate affordable union contracts, thus driving up property taxes. She also appears to be OK with a movement toward higher gasoline taxes, saying “we have to get off of gas-guzzling cars.”

While it’s getting harder and harder for government to cut, as Governor Raimondo notes, a corollary argument might be that it is getting harder and harder for taxpayers to cut their household budgets so that government can have more.

All this will reignite the recurring debate about whether the people of Rhode Island are truly under-taxed or whether their government overspends. Rhode Island taxes have already arguably hampered economic growth, driving people elsewhere. Because of minimal population growth, the state stands on the brink of losing one of its two U.S. House seats, which could cost it an enormous amount of federal dollars.

Politically, it seems doubtful the legislature would vote for significantly higher taxes in an election year. Speaker Mattiello, certainly, is dead set against breaking his promise to phase out the car tax.

The governor, a spectacular fundraiser, hopes to have $1 million-plus in her campaign account, and is threatening to use some of that money to back the opponents of incumbent lawmakers who refuse to support her spending plans. That runs the grave risk, of course, of antagonizing lawmakers rather than making them tremble in fear and fall into line. She could well be burning her remaining bridges of legislative support.

Look for 2020 to be an interesting year.

Online: https://bit.ly/34GUgAK



Pumping brakes on the Transportation and Climate Initiative

Caledonian Record

Dec. 19

On Wednesday the Georgetown Climate Center unveiled its long awaited proposal to retard climate change by slapping an annually increasing tax on all gasoline and diesel fuel used in transportation throughout 12 Northeastern states.

Almost every environmental and climate change activist group, unable for the past four years to get the Vermont legislature to even vote on creating a carbon tax to achieve the same end, designated the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) as its must-pass “banner” idea for 2020.

The advocates had barely stopped cheering TCI’s unveiling when one brave Governor, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, rained on their parade.

New Hampshire announced it won’t join the controversial regional TCI compact just hours after a draft policy was released Tuesday. Sununu cited the cost burden on drivers.

“I will not force Granite Staters to pay more for their gas just to subsidize other states’ crumbling infrastructure,” the Governor told the Boston Herald. “New Hampshire is already taking substantial steps to curb our carbon emissions, and this initiative, if enacted, would institute a new gas tax by up to 17 cents per gallon while only achieving minimal results. This program is a financial boondoggle and the people of New Hampshire will never support it.”

Sununu’s office added that “rural communities would be left at a severe disadvantage if New Hampshire participated in the TCI, as drivers will bear the brunt of the artificially higher gas prices.” Sununu spokesman Jared Chicoine added that “This proposal is a huge hit to the wallets of rural drivers. The data makes it clear that — even without the TCI proposal — the market is already projected to reach many of the same environmental benchmarks.”

Good for Gov. Sununu.

He deserves thanks from most local folks, including motorists, delivery people (and those receiving deliveries), school bus operators, milk haulers, ambulance companies, police forces, taxi drivers, fuel tankers, small business employees and owners, as well as the economies that rely on snowmobilers and ATVs… just to name a few.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has long declared his strong opposition to a carbon tax. The TCI – which taxes motor fuel based on its carbon content – clearly is one. We fully expect him to follow Governor Sununu’s lead for the good of all Vermont’s poor, and remote, residents.

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