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Editorials from around New England

July 5, 2019

Editorials from around New England:

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CONNECTICUT

This Independence Day we have a new fight upon us. We’re angry, alienated and losing hope.

Hartford Courant

July 4

This weekend we celebrate being American and all that goes with it, from going to the beach to gathering with friends to maybe doing a little shopping as well. We revel in the freedom declared on July 4, 1776, the freedom we have long cherished and, too often, had to fight for as well.

Now we have a new fight upon us, but it is not with a foreign enemy. It’s with ourselves. We have allowed anger and division to define who we are as a nation. The public discourse has become divisive and alienating. Friends have become enemies. Family members have become strangers.

But, you might say, with good reason.

Why not be angry? Isn’t there plenty to be angry about?

Just look at what is happening at our nation’s borders, children being held like animals in inhumane, deplorable conditions. Families seeking the very freedom we celebrate with cookouts and fireworks are treated like criminals. Take a look at the children’s drawings and try not to weep.

Just look at the steps backward we’ve taken in the quest for true equality and inclusion as prejudice and hate swing back into acceptance. Hate crimes continue to rise.

Just look at the intransigence of poverty and educational disparity in Hartford, New Haven and other cities across America. While the stock market continues to climb and wealth continues to grow, too many Americans find themselves on the wrong side of the opportunity gap.

And then, of course, there’s our president, a master of division and alienation.

It’s a good time to be angry.

But anger has a cost and we’re paying for it in ways we may not even appreciate. We no longer seem to simply get angry over one issue or another. Anger is our baseline. Too many people are walking around these days in a chronic state of being pissed off.

Let’s take an issue that’s been in the news in Connecticut lately as an example: The question of whether the state should impose additional restrictions on transgender athletes competing in high school sports. The debate has taken place against a backdrop of angry name-calling and personal derision. Somewhere amid the heated debate over rules, the question of what it’s like to be a transgender teenager in high school has gotten lost.

Another example: At Trinity College this spring, what could have been a powerful debate over the damaging impact of coded language that invokes white supremacy turned into a shouting match with a lot of heat and precious little light. A wasted opportunity.

That isn’t to say everyone needs to agree. They shouldn’t — and that’s not the point. Diversity of thought and opinion, the ability to challenge beliefs and have yours challenged, is what helps us grow as individuals and as a nation.

But we have lost the ability to disagree without making it personal, without getting angry at the individual on the other side of the table. And then, to make it worse, we post on Facebook and Twitter, exaggerating the extremes of our views in a pathetic and often destructive attempt to stand out. We yell, a lot.

And with that, we’ve lost a little bit of who we are. How does that go?

One nation, indivisible...Words that seem hollow this Independence Day.

America wasn’t a nation founded to celebrate uniformity. It was founded to protect diversity. When we lose the ability to appreciate differences, we are the lesser for it. When we wave the flag as a cudgel to prove that our version of being an American is better than someone else’s, we reveal our pettiness. And when all we do is walk around angry, we forget there may actually be an ideal or two we can all agree on.

Online: https://bit.ly/30aJcK0

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MASSACHUSETTS

Here’s why you should care about the Supreme Court’s ruling on the census citizenship question

The Boston Globe

July 5

How and who to count in the 2020 Census has been at the heart of a legal battle against the Trump administration since March of last year. That’s when Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the census, authorized the reinstatement of a controversial question: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

At least seven lawsuits challenged the move on constitutional and procedural grounds. A couple of US district judges have sided with the plaintiffs, which include states and civil rights groups. The federal government appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. On Thursday, the court finally declared a winner — sort of.

In a divided ruling, the court narrowly blocked the Trump administration from including the citizenship question. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberal justices in raising doubts about the administration’s intent behind the question. The rationale offered by Ross to add it, he wrote, “seems to have been contrived,” and the justices sent the matter back to the district court for the administration to come up with a more reasonable justification.

In other words, the court didn’t say it wasn’t permissible to ask the citizenship question in the forms. It just said that the administration needed better reasoning.

Now it’s up to Trump officials to produce that reasoning and subject the case to more thorough legal scrutiny. Meanwhile, the Census Bureau has said it needs to print survey forms by Monday, but Trump is already seeking to pull the reins on the process, hoping to find a way to push the citizenship question through.

The administration should accept defeat and drop the question for good. It never made sense to bring it back. It would lead to an undercount by suppressing census participation of disenfranchised groups. That would be a major blow to our democracy and would affect us all.

Here’s how:

The census count is used to determine how many elected representatives each state should have in Congress — that is, how much electoral power each state gets. It also determines how much money states receive, from roughly $880 billion in federal dollars, for programs such as Head Start, Medicare, and food stamps. Massachusetts would stand to lose $22 billion in funding, or about $2,500 per person, according to estimates, if the citizenship question were reinstated.

Between 1820 and 1950, the citizenship question was asked of all households, but was subsequently deemed unnecessary and moved to the long-form questionnaire, which is sent to only a small share of the population. Since Trump took office, there were reports he wanted to reinstate the citizenship question. The question has always been why.

There is ample research, from independent demographic experts and Census Bureau officers, concluding that the move would yield an inaccurate count. Latino and other immigrant groups, they argued, would avoid answering the census for fear of being targeted if they lacked citizenship status. Chief Justice Roberts agreed: “Several state respondents here have shown that if noncitizen households are undercounted by as little as 2 percent . . . they will lose out on federal funds that are distributed on the basis of state population.”

And seats in Congress, of course. One need not be cynical to start seeing a real motive behind the citizenship question. Yet Ross has insisted that it was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act, a dubious pretext. The Supreme Court agreed with the lower court. “Several points, considered together, reveal a significant mismatch between the decision the Secretary made and the rationale he provided,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. ”(W)e cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given.”

All of us have a stake in this fight. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that all residents, no matter who they are or where they’re from, are duly counted. While the Supreme Court handed a small victory in the case, the fight is clearly not over.

Online: https://bit.ly/2LExrb4

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MAINE

Human rights abuses at the border must end

Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel/CentralMaine.com

July 5

A baby fed from the same unwashed bottle, day after day. Detainees told to drink from toilets. All denied baths and toothbrushes in overcrowded cells with a concrete floor for a bed - if they have room to lie down at all.

In Maine, you couldn’t keep dogs in those conditions. Children living like that would be removed from their home, and their guardians would be facing criminal charges.

But along our southern border, it’s the government keeping thousands of families, children and adults, in appalling conditions despite repeated alarms sounded by watchdogs. What’s happening now is a breakdown in human decency that is so out of step with this country’s values that it can’t be tolerated any longer.

The latest evidence comes in a report by the acting Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security.

The report is titled “Management Alert - DHS needs to address dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults in the Rio Grande Valley,” and it finds that U.S. Customs and Border Protection is failing to meet not only its own standards for humane treatment, but also the conditions the government agreed to in a court-approved consent decree.

Government investigators found children and adults in overcrowded cells that exceeded fire safety maximum occupancy limits. They found children with little food, no access to showers, no laundry facilities or clean clothes for them to change into. They found that children were routinely detained longer than the 72-hour maximum - nearly one-third of the children they observed, 826 out of 2,669, had been held longer than the limit at the time of the inspection.

The situation was not better for adults. Some were packed into a “standing room only” cell where they were held for more than a week. For more than a month, others were locked in a room with barely enough space to sit down. They found 51 adult women held in a cell designed for no more than 40 juveniles, and 71 adult men in a cell that was limited to 41 women.

Federal officials claim that they are inundated with would-be immigrants who are arriving in numbers not seen in 20 years, that is part of the problem, but it goes deeper than that.

“Deterrence” has been an official government policy for months. The theory is that the United States can make attempted immigration so unpleasant that people would not bother trying to come here. The policy is not only cruel, but also wrongheaded. It’s not just that our standard of living is pulling immigrants to our borders - it’s that violence and oppression are pushing them away from their homes. Many couldn’t turn around no matter how badly they are treated here.

This official attitude has filtered down to the front-line workers, if a private social media platform used by current and former border agents is any indication. Participants use xenophobic and racist language, among other things making jokes about migrants who have died in custody. The posts recall the Abu Ghraib guards who abused prisoners for fun, taking gag photos as trophies, acting as if the Iraqis in their custody weren’t really human.

If the United States is to retain any scrap of credibility as a defender of human rights, this appalling treatment of migrants on our border has got to end. Since the administration won’t do the right thing, it’s up to Congress to act, and there is no time left for patience.

Members of Congress should expect to go down in history for what they did or didn’t do when desperate families who needed help were treated worse than animals.

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

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

‘Learn Everywhere’ is no solution

The Concord Monitor

June 30

The fate of public education and New Hampshire’s history of local control of public schools is too important to be decided quickly in acrimonious split decisions. The Learn Everywhere program sprung on the state by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut is controversial, opposed by most educators, redundant and far from ready for prime time. It should not become law, yet it might.

As described on the Department of Education’s website, the program would allow Edelblut’s department, and ultimately the seven-member State Board of Education, to certify programs, both nonprofit and for-profit, to grant high school graduation credits to participating students. School districts, which would have no control over the programs, would be forced by state law to count at least one-third of such credits toward a student’s graduation requirements, like it or not.

The change is opposed by the state’s largest teachers’ union, and the associations representing the state’s school administrators, principals, school boards, special education administrators and the League of Women Voters.

In 2016, Edelblut nearly defeated Chris Sununu in the Republican gubernatorial primary. That set the stage for what was to come. Sununu, who won by less than 1% of the primary vote, went on to name Edelblut, a charter school proponent who had no education credentials beyond home-schooling his seven children, to be the state’s commissioner of education. The Executive Council confirmed Edelblut’s nomination along party lines, 3-2.

Learn Everywhere would allow any entity, from large corporations to a local garage that takes on an apprentice mechanic, as well as service groups and providers who charge to teach music, art, dance or a host of other subjects, to qualify to award credits toward graduation. Parents, rather than school districts, would supposedly foot the bill for the out-of-school education. The ability to confer graduation credits would give such businesses a valuable marketing tool and a reason to raise prices. That would, as critics argue, make extra-school opportunities even less affordable for students from households with limited means.

Applicants to grant credit would ostensibly be vetted by the state school board. Its seven members are unpaid and charged with meeting at least six times per year. Only some have an education background. How much oversight and accountability could the board realistically provide? Earlier this month, the state board approved Edelblut’s free-market proposal by a split vote, 4-3 - not a vote to inspire confidence in the plan.

School districts already have the opportunity to offer what are called Extended Learning Opportunities: for-credit internships, a job or work-study program, participation in a performing arts group, etc. The programs are similar to those Edelblut’s would add but the latter would lack either district approval or appropriate accountability. A bill that would give school districts the option to accept credits under the program passed the House and Senate, but Sununu is expected to veto it.

Recently, in these pages, Fred Bramante, a past chairman of the state board, argued in favor of adopting Learn Everywhere because, in part, too few school districts offer Extended Learning Opportunities. He’s right. But that’s not because school districts don’t want to. It’s because they are so starved for state funding that they can barely fulfill their existing responsibilities.

Learn Everywhere, whatever merits it might have if properly constructed, is a sideshow to the real problem - the chronic, unconstitutional under-funding of public education by the state of New Hampshire. The shortfall that makes it difficult for schools to meet everyone’s goal, an education individually tailored to the needs and interests of every child, one that guarantees that students emerge competent to maximize their potential, take their place as a lifelong learner and become a contributing member of society.

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

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RHODE ISLAND

Long-overdue list from the Diocese

The Providence Journal

July 2

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. It was right of Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin to release a list of 50 clergy members who had been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children.

We saw the faces of some of the accused spread across the front page of The Providence Journal Tuesday — many of them surely guilty of monstrous acts of cruelty and betrayal. Readers no doubt scanned the list for clergy that had worked in their churches. Only 19 of the 50 are still alive, and none still serve the diocese.

In a letter that Mr. Tobin read in a video, the bishop said that publishing the list “is a difficult but necessary moment in the moment in the life of our Diocesan church.”

He said “our thoughts and prayers turn first of all to those who have been harmed by the grave sin of sexual misconduct by clerics — priests and deacons — over the years.” He offered to the victims, their families and faithful Catholics who have been “rightly scandalized by these disgraceful events ... the profound apology of the Church and the Diocese of Providence. We pray fervently that God will give you the grace of healing and peace.”

The list was released as Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law a new measure extending from seven years to 35 the time limit for victims to file suits against their molesters. The legislation generally looks forward. Institutions through which molesters acted are protected from further lawsuits if the seven-year statute of limitations has already passed, except in cases of recovered memory.

The Catholic Church’s past gross mishandling of sexual abuse charges — predators were shifted from parish to parish, and children left unprotected — has done lifelong harm to victims and grievously damaged the institution’s reputation. Good priests have been stained by the association, and the church’s charitable mission damaged.

We hope that the list will provide at least some comfort to victims who felt they were alone or not believed.

What is most important is that serious changes have been undertaken, and that a system now exists in the Diocese to bring in the police and deal with allegations of sexual abuse immediately.

Predatory sexual behavior is a problem far beyond the Church, of course. “No empirical data exists that suggests that Catholic clerics sexually abuse minors at a level higher than clerics from other religious traditions or from other groups of men who have ready access and power over children (e.g., school teachers, coaches),” Rhode Island native Thomas Plante, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University, wrote last year in Psychology Today.

A 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Education “found that about 5-7 percent of public school teachers engaged in similar sexually abusive behavior with their students” during the second half of the 20th century, while the “best available data reports that 4 percent of Catholic priests sexually violated a minor child” during that period, Mr. Plante wrote.

All this suggests that our society must be vigilant about protecting children, something the Catholic Church failed to do by permitting predators to strike repeatedly.

The abuse of children by those placed in positions of respect and trust is one of the worst betrayals imaginable. All institutions whose members preyed on children must work to help victims heal and do all they can to prevent new abominations.

Online: https://bit.ly/2XL37BQ

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VERMONT

Elections under siege from inside and out

Brattleboro Reformer

July 1

At this point, there is no denying that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election and that Donald Trump and his campaign were more than accommodating. Mr. Trump went before the cameras to urge Russia to dig up Hillary Clinton’s emails and reveal any dirt it could find. If the Democratic nominee had done the same thing, she surely would have been locked up.

The 2020 presidential campaign is now well underway, and even with Russian interference in 2016 an established fact, there is a real danger that Russia will interfere again on behalf of the Republican candidate. In fact, with President Trump having extended what amounts to an open invitation, it is essentially a certainty.

In a recent interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, President Trump said he saw nothing wrong with accepting information about his Democratic rivals from foreign governments. This is illegal under federal law, as an incredulous Ellen Weintraub, the chairman of the Federal Election Commission and an appointee of President George W. Bush, said following the interview. Given the president’s regularly demonstrated disdain for the nation’s basic democratic principles, this statement isn’t surprising, but it is dismaying nonetheless.

This disdain was again on display Thursday at the G-20 summit in Japan. Asked by reporters as he sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin if he would tell the Russian leader not to interfere in the 2020 election, Mr. Trump theatrically wagged a finger at the smirking Russian leader and said, “Don’t meddle in the election, please.” (Mr. Trump, commiserating earlier with Mr. Putin about bothersome journalists, suggested “Get rid of them.” Twenty-six journalists have been murdered in Russian since the totalitarian leader took office, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, many of them while investigating government abuses.)

Colluding with Russia may be a joke to President Trump, but it surely isn’t to Americans who have watched him divide America and break ties with European allies while fawning over dictators. The security of our 2020 elections, also a joke to the president, isn’t a joke to Americans who cherish our threatened democracy. But what can be done to assure this security?

Without the help of a Republican Party that used to cherish those principles and once stood up to Communist bullies and other foreign threats, but no longer does either, precious little, at least on the legislative front.

On Thursday, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives approved the Securing America’s Federal Elections, or SAFE, Act.

The bill would, among other provisions, authorize $775 million in grants to help states secure their voting systems, prohibit voting systems from being connected to the internet or wireless technologies, and tighten standards for private companies that provide voting machines and other election infrastructure.

It was disappointing, but again not surprising, that the measure passed along party lines, with 184 Republicans voting against measures to assure the security of elections, which are the basic element of our democracy. And with the former party of law and order having sold out to a president who sees himself as above the law, our elections will again be vulnerable to foreign influence in 2020.

With Republicans in control of the Senate, it is unlikely that the SAFE Act will pass, but Senate President Mitch McConnell will likely not even give the bill a hearing. Sen. McConnell’s consistent obstructionism on essentially everything but tax cuts for the wealthy and more money for the Pentagon has stalled America in its tracks for years. By refusing to approve or even consider the SAFE Act, the majority leader and the 184 House Republicans will have signed on to President Trump’s invitation to Russia and other foreign leaders to interfere with the 2020 election.

What can dismayed and angered Americans do?

Vote. Vote in such numbers that they overwhelm the Russian and other cyberterrorists who will try to undermine our elections. Vote in such numbers that they will sabotage those who will try keep Hispanics and African Americans away from the polls or who — newly emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court — will gerrymander voting districts to the advantage of white voters and the detriment of minorities. Vote to rebuild the democracy that so many have sought to weaken since Election Day 2016.

Online: https://bit.ly/32cg8DO

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