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Editorials from around New England

January 27, 2017

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

The (Norwalk) Hour (Conn.), Jan. 23, 2017

Right up there with a free press and free speech in the First Amendment is the “right of the people peaceably to assemble.” Hundreds of thousands of women exercised that time-honored right on Saturday in Washington and in sister marches in Stamford, Hartford, New York City and elsewhere in the country.

Eighty buses brought marchers from Connecticut and others traveled by train or car, joining with the throngs, to be heard on the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The Women’s March on Washington may have sprung from the stunning disappointment of the loss of Democrat Hillary Clinton, who came close to being the country’s first female president, but it evolved into something greater.

More than a protest of Trump’s presidency, women marched to assert their rights and to protect those targeted by the incoming administration for their religious beliefs, immigration status or ethnicity. They marched to support the vulnerable.

Some were motivated to march on Washington by the appalling misogynistic attitude of the new president, a man who classified the other gender by their physical attributes, derided women who did not fit his image of perfection and bragged about how his celebrity allowed him to grab women in an intimate way. It was a horrifying flashback to the Playboy years when women were treated as objects— and a chill that maybe women had not come a long way after all.

Some were motivated to march for social progress, such as gun violence prevention, or for awareness such as the need to protect the environment. Some were motivated to march for equality, such as equal pay for equal work of women and men.

They marched as mothers, daughters, sisters— women. But solidarity was an image on Saturday, not a reality across the country. A majority of white women— 53 percent —voted for Trump last November.

Marchers were criticized by anti-abortion groups for not being inclusive to all. But no one was banned.

Marchers were criticized as sore losers. The women knew their march would not, could not, change the course of history and make Hillary Clinton the 45th president. The march was not so much about who lost, but who won.

The Women’s March on Washington followed a tradition— from civil rights seekers to war protesters —to make the voice of the people heard.

In his inauguration speech the day before the march, President Trump promised the next four years would be not for the benefit of politicians, but rather for the people. We hope so. Regardless, we are encouraged that so many people are finding their own voices.

In the words of Gloria Steinem: “The future depends entirely on what each of us does every day; a movement is only people moving.”




The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Jan. 24, 2017

We have learned a lot from the first days of the Trump administration. There are facts— things that are indisputably the case. And there are “alternative facts” —things that someone in the White House wants to be true.

That’s why the newly sworn-in president decided to spend much of the weekend attacking the media for honest reporting on the size of the crowds that came to Washington last weekend.

Here are the facts: Crowd scientists employed by The New York Times estimate that 160,000 people gathered on the National Mall to see Donald Trump sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. That’s a big crowd, but considerably less than the 1 million-plus who turned out to see Barack Obama sworn in the first time, or the estimated 450,000 who packed the Mall and the streets of Washington on Saturday to affirm their commitment to women’s rights.

But, so what? That doesn’t make Trump’s victory in November any less significant. He is still the president of the United States, the single most powerful person in the world. He still has a lot of work to do.

The voters turned up for him when it mattered, on Election Day. The size of the crowd should not have mattered.

But apparently it did. Trump himself went to CIA headquarters and told employees that the real inauguration crowd had been much bigger than what had been reported by a media that he said is biased against him. Then he sent press secretary Sean Spicer out to hector the White House press corps with a series of demonstrably false statements about the size of the crowd, the number of riders on the capital’s Metro system, the protective covering of the Mall’s grass and the type of security used.

Those easily disproven statements are what presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway called “alternative facts” on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, forcing a befuddled Chuck Todd to sputter, “Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods!”

Which is true, but beside the point. The real question is not about the numbers on the Mall. It should be: What else might these high-level administration figures be willing to lie about if they are going to spend their first days in office creating “alternative facts” about something as inconsequential as the size of a crowd?

And when that spokesman has to look into a camera to say that our nation is under attack, how are we supposed to know which are the real facts and which are the “alternative facts”?

President Trump has been hired to do vitally important public business every day, and that job will not get easier when a substantial percentage of the country decides that it cannot trust him.

He can say he’s fighting back against the media, but when he’s fighting against the truth, he’s destroying his administration’s credibility. Once that’s gone, you can’t get it back. And that is a fact.




The Daily Hampshire Gazette (Mass.), Jan. 23, 2017

A cultural icon will succumb in May when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus ends its 146-year tradition of animal acts, clowns, trapeze artists and all the other trappings of the one-time “Greatest Show on Earth” that rolled across the country, thrilling generations of Americans.

Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which produces the Ringling circus, announced Jan. 14 that its last shows will be held in May. “Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop. This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company,” Feld said.

“It’s been through world wars, and it’s been through every kind of economic cycle and it’s been through a lot of change. In the past decade there’s been more change in the world than in the 50 to 75 years prior to that. And I think it isn’t relevant to people in the same way,” Feld said, adding that “we are extremely grateful to the millions of families who have made Ringling Bros. part of their lives for generations.”

Starting in the 1800s and through the early part of the 20th century, circuses headed by the Ringling brothers, P.T. Barnum and Clyde Beatty were among the most popular brands of entertainment in the country, traveling by rail, bringing exotic wild animals to small towns across America where three-ring spectacles were set up beneath the big top.

“In the 1880s, especially, here you had this huge colossal canvas city that tracked across the country. It brought the wonders of the world to your door. You didn’t have to go to Africa or Asia to see the animals,” Deborah Walk, the assistant director of legacy and circus at John Ringling’s mansion and circus collection in Sarasota, Florida, told the Associated Press.

Until recent years, the circus remained a spectacle that dazzled wide-eyed children. The largest of its animals— the elephants —were a magnet for crowds. When the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus visited Northampton in 1984, its four shows at the Three County Fairgrounds were preceded by elephant races on Main Street.

But the elephants also drew the attention of animal rights activists who targeted circuses with claims that they mistreated them and other animals by forcing them to perform in their shows.

Despite winning a $25.2 million settlement in 2014 from animal rights groups, ending a 14-year legal fight, Feld Entertainment removed elephants from its circus shows last year. Ticket sales fell as a result, the final blow to a circus which already could not keep up with the shifting culture which saw young people captivated by video games and the internet.

People who want one last taste of the Ringling Bros. extravaganza don’t have to travel far. There will be five shows April 14 to 16 at the DCU Center in Worcester. Among Ringling’s final shows will be eight at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island, May 4 through 7.

Ringling is the latest circus to shut down in the 21st century. The Cole Bros. Circus— which in its heyday was Ringling’s chief rival —stopped touring last year.

And the Big Apple Circus, which was established in 1977 and became a nonprofit, filed for bankruptcy last year. Its assets, including two big-top tents, will be sold at an auction in New York City on Feb. 7.

The show will go on, though, with the spotlight now shining squarely on circuses whose human performers are the sole entertainers. Among the best known of those is Cirque du Soleil, based in Montreal.

And there is Circus Smirkus, which was founded in 1987 in a 150-year-old farmhouse in Greensboro, Vermont. It trains young people in the skills and culture of the traveling circus, and its troupe tours New England for two months each summer with its 750-seat, European-style, one-ring big top. It performed five shows last July at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton.

Changing cultural norms helped reshape the face of traveling circuses. But that shouldn’t take away the thrill of stepping under the big top.




The Providence Journal (R.I.), Jan. 24, 2017

Donald Trump is, in many ways, an unprecedented— or, “unpresidented,” as Trump tweeted in an amusing Freudian malapropism not long ago —president. He is the first president to have served in neither government nor the military. President Trump also broke the mold during the campaign in becoming the first major party presidential candidate since 1976 to decline to publicly release his tax returns.

As the campaign unfolded, we noted that was cause for alarm. Trump has sprawling business interests in numerous foreign countries. The American people had a right to know, in the interest of full disclosure, just what kinds of conflicts and relationships he would bring to the White House. The release would also have revealed something of the character of the man who now inhabits the Oval Office; it would show his charitable donations, for example, or what loopholes (if any) he took advantage of to avoid making payments to the Treasury. All of these points still stand now that he is president.

Then-candidate Trump seemed to implicitly agree with these arguments; he promised repeatedly through the campaign that he would eventually release them— after the Internal Revenue Service concluded its audit of them. Back in 2012, Trump had also urged Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. (That Republican candidate did so, albeit belatedly.)

Over the weekend, however, the president’s close aide Kellyanne Conway suggested that Trump will never release the returns. “The White House response is that he’s not going to release his tax returns,” Conway said. “We litigated this all through the election.”

What the election litigated was his promise to be forthcoming.

Throughout the campaign, Trump vowed repeatedly to ultimately release them. In 2014, before he was a candidate, Trump said on television that he would “absolutely” release them if he ran for office; a few months later he said on the radio that he “would release them.” In February 2016, he claimed that they would be released “in the next few months.” In September of that year, he said, “when the audit is complete, I will release my returns.” Trump never claimed, as Conway suggested, that there was some sort of statute of limitations on this promise.

In other words, if President Trump does not eventually release his returns, he will be a proven liar.

Perhaps that’s why Conway backpedaled a bit after her television appearance, claiming on Twitter that, “POTUS is under audit and will not release (tax returns) until that is completed.” Given how long the president has been stringing the people along on this matter, however, there is reason to be skeptical. And by the way, the “audit” excuse doesn’t exactly hold water. There is no reason he could not release his records. Richard Nixon— hardly the gold standard in transparency and ethical behavior —released his when they were under audit.

The American people strongly support President Trump’s releasing his returns. Just this month, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 74 percent support their release.

President Trump claims to have made listening to “the people” a mission of his presidency. He should do so on the matter of his tax returns.




The Concord Monitor (N.H.), Jan. 24, 2017

The sun came up, the sky is blue, President Donald Trump tweeted and the New England Patriots are heading to Houston to play in Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5.

Between the yawns, we can’t help but marvel at the fact that the Patriots are so good, and have been for so long, that every regular season and playoff game leading up to the Super Bowl feels a little like pre-season football. Even Sunday’s conference championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers had all the drama of an August scrimmage. We know that’s not how it feels for players and coaches, but then again they don’t have the luxury of being spoiled week in and week out by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

At this point, Patriots fans know most of the numbers, but we can’t resist repeating some of them. Since Belichick took the reins as head coach in 2000, the Patriots have compiled a regular season record of 201-71 and a playoff record of 24-9 (compared to a 7-9 playoff record for the rest of the AFC East). During this 17-year stretch, the Pats have played in 11 conference championships, including a current streak of six in a row, and six Super Bowls. In two weeks they will play in number seven, a chance for Belichick and Brady to claim a fifth ring together.

Here’s what the Patriots did in the 17 seasons before Belichick arrived (1983-1999) under coaches Pete Carroll, Bill Parcells, Dick MacPherson, Rod Rust, Raymond Berry and Ron Meyer: a regular season record of 129-142 and a playoff record of 6-6, with two conference championships (1985 and 1996) followed by two embarrassing Super Bowl losses.

In fact, Belichick was the harbinger of good things to come for all four of the major Boston sports teams. Since 2000, the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics have combined for nine world championships. From 1983-1999, only the 1984 and 1986 Celtics raised the banner.

Belichick could write book after book about his hall-of-fame career, with titles like The Sixth Sense: How to Pick a Franchise Quarterback at the End of a Draft, Salary Cap Management for Idiots and We’re on to Cincinnati: The Art of the Non-Answer. But the most important volume would be the one co-authored by his quarterback, who happens to be the greatest ever to play the position.

The duo has been maddening for the NFL, a league built for parity. So maddening, in fact, that Commissioner Roger Goodell turned a silly case of deflated footballs into the professional sports equivalent of Watergate, suspending Brady for four games and hitting the Patriots with a $1 million fine and the loss of its first- and fourth-round picks in the 2016 draft. But just as that whole parity thing hasn’t worked out for the league, neither has the punishment.

At age 39, Brady is heading in to the Super Bowl sharper than ever— and four games fresher than he would have been. While Brady sat, Belichick showcased the skills of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who should fetch a first-round pick if the Patriots decide to trade him. And that NFL-record $1 million team fine? According to Forbes, the Patriots are the second most valuable team in the NFL at $3.4 billion, just behind the Dallas Cowboys. We’re pretty sure Bob Kraft isn’t sweating a million bucks as his team heads to another Super Bowl and another big boost in merchandise sales.

All of this is just to say that as long as Belichick and Brady are around, anything less than a Super Bowl victory is a lost season for the team and its fans. For those of us who remember the years of Rust, Berry and Meyer— and Tony Eason, Steve Grogan and Hugh Millen —it’s all still a little hard to believe.




Valley News (Vt.), Jan. 25, 2017

The stunning rise of super-wealth was made clear last week when an Oxfam analysis found that eight of the world’s richest men now hold as much wealth as half of the world’s population. Only in the perverse mathematics of inequality can eight equal 3.6 billion. “It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when one in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, who was at the annual meeting of global political and business elites in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, Switzerland.

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, is said to be the world’s richest human, with a net worth of some $75 billion. According to Forbes, the others, in order of affluence, are Spanish retailer Amancio Ortega, investor Warren Buffett, Mexican business tycoon Carlos Slim Helu, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Oracle’s Larry Ellison and businessman and sometimes politician Michael Bloomberg. Several are known for their philanthropy, but the bottom line is they are as rich as Croesus, or just about any other figure, historical or mythical.

Widening inequality is thought to be a major factor in a global trust crisis. Edelman, one of the world’s largest marketing firms, conducted a survey of more than 33,000 people around the world and found “the largest-ever drop in trust across government, media, business, and even non-governmental organizations. CEO credibility is at an all-time low and government leaders are the least trusted group,” according to a Bloomberg News account. Edelman reported that 53 percent of respondents think the system has failed them and only 15 percent think it’s working.

Oxfam urged the super-wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes (President Trump should disclose his tax records, we add), and direct the businesses they control to pay a living wage. Edelman added that companies need to be transparent and honest with employees. We can only hope that trends move in that direction, but are not optimistic that this will happen out of benevolence— it will take better public policy, such as a progressive tax code. Republican leaders obsessed with tax cuts plan to move in the opposite direction, so near-term prospects are poor.

Yet if the wealthy would prefer to ignore the decline in trust, a pillar of a stable society, they should take heed of the ascent of President Trump. In addition to fanning fears and spreading disinformation, he promised to be a champion of the working class, and they believed him— which suggests how unsettled these times have become. No matter what one thinks of the likely results of Trump’s economic plans, his administration’s erratic start suggests that one thing he will not do is restore trust in institutions. And if he does indeed drive trust lower, we will all be poorer for it.




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