Editorials from around New England – McClatchy Washington Bureau

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

The Hartford Courant (Conn.), Jan. 29, 2017

Supreme Court, four decades ago, recognized a woman’s right to make her own childbearing decisions. Now opponents of that right are trying to restrict it, both nationwide and in this state. The attempts are misguided and wrong. A woman should be able to control her own body — the same unquestioned right that men have.

The U.S. House has voted to permanently ban women from receiving any federal assistance for abortion. Here in Connecticut, several bills have been filed in the General Assembly to put obstacles in the way of safe, legal abortion — more bills than usual, observers say. The bills would, among other things, require an ultrasound before all abortions and parental notification before a minor has an abortion.

Both abortion rates and teen birth rates are at record lows since Roe v. Wade became law in 1973. Bills like these could undo that progress.

The bills would particularly put hurdles in the paths of teenagers who want safe abortions. (Legal abortion is medically much safer than giving birth.) They could end up saddling unprepared teens with unwanted babies, ruining their futures and perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

Such obstacles might also prompt teens to look for dangerous alternatives. Most of the states with the greatest legal barriers to abortion, like Mississippi, showed the greatest interest in self-induced abortion as shown through Google searches, according to The New York Times. In Texas, which has many abortion restrictions, a study estimated that between 100,000 and 240,000 women had tried to self-abort at some point in their lives.

Connecticut’s laws provide the sort of guidance to teenagers seeking abortions that should satisfy both pro-life and pro-choice advocates.

In Connecticut, abortions for girls under 17 are rare — just 2 percent of the total. Most girls seeking abortion do have a trusted adult counseling them. The few who don’t are, by law, given professional counsel and offered alternatives to abortion.

Connecticut has had a mandatory counseling law for girls under 16 seeking abortions since 1990, passed that year with the blessing of the Pro-Life Council of Connecticut and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford.

The law requires a doctor or counselor —psychiatrist, licensed psychologist, ordained member of the clergy and the like — to explain the alternatives to abortion in clear, understandable language. Those alternatives include details on no-cost adoptions and lists of local and national adoption agencies.

Counselors are also required, by law, to talk with the girl about involving her parents in her decision and to explain how that might be in her best interest.

They must let the girl know she can change her mind about the abortion at any time.

They must also report to authorities any signs of abuse.

Whether to have an abortion is an agonizing personal decision for any female. No parent wants her teenager in that situation. Any loving parent wants to help a child in trouble. And most teens do tell their parents when they are in trouble.

But some teens are so afraid to tell even loving parents — or to go before a judge to argue their case, as other states require — that they might contemplate riskier options.

Panna Krom, for example, became pregnant at 16 and hid her pregnancy from her parents. Her mother found the baby’s body in her daughter’s closet. Panna served almost 10 years in a Connecticut prison until her sentence was commuted last year.

It’s often said that if parental consent is required for children to take aspirin in school, it surely should be required for girls to get an abortion. That indeed should be the case. But it’s not always that simple. The law can’t force teenagers to confide in their parents.

There are better ways for government to help women and girls. One way is to reduce the need for abortions, not put up obstacles to them.

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Online:

http://cour.at/2jnS4uU

The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Feb. 1, 2017

Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins faces a high-stakes test with an obvious answer: Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos has been hostile to public K-12 schools even as she’s demonstrated no grasp of the issues facing them, so she shouldn’t have a role in the nation’s largest public education agency.

DeVos cleared a big hurdle Tuesday when her nomination was sent to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. Now Collins, who voted for DeVos in committee, says she hasn’t decided whether she’ll support DeVos on the Senate floor.

Independent Maine Sen. Angus King has already come out against DeVos. But Collins, considered a moderate in Washington, could be a swing vote: Republicans have a 52-48 edge in the Senate, meaning that every Democrat and three Republicans would have to vote against DeVos for the nomination to be rejected.

One of the first Republicans to express reservations about President Trump’s education nominee, Maine’s senior senator said that DeVos’ awkward Jan. 17 confirmation hearing left her concerned about DeVos’ “apparent unfamiliarity with” the landmark Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires states to provide free and appropriate education to children with disabilities.

Asked by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., whether all schools that get federal funding should have to abide by the federal civil rights law, DeVos replied, “I think that is a matter best left to the states.” It’s not clear whether she actually doesn’t understand IDEA, or doesn’t believe that federal statutes should take precedence over states’ rights. Either should raise eyebrows.

More worrisome is DeVos’ strenuous activism on behalf of school choice. Collins says she’s been assured that, if confirmed, DeVos would not push school vouchers on states by tying federal funding to the presence of state voucher programs, which allow taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for private and parochial schooling. But the nominee – a billionaire philanthropist – chairs a Washington nonprofit that promotes vouchers, and it’s hard to imagine her forfeiting an opportunity to turn her values into policy.

In her home state of Michigan, DeVos proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would have legalized public funding for private and religious education. The state’s voters overwhelmingly rejected the 2000 proposal, but Betsy and Richard DeVos bounced back, funding successful efforts to lift a cap on the number of charter schools in Michigan and to defeat measures providing for public oversight of charters.

Thanks to the DeVoses, according to Politico Magazine’s Zack Stanton, about 240 of Michigan’s 300 publicly funded charter schools are run by for-profit companies. “This means that taxpayer dollars that would otherwise go to traditional public schools are instead used to buy supplies such as textbooks and desks that become private property,” Stanton wrote.

DeVos demonstrated her intransigence on the topic at her confirmation hearing. Repeatedly asked by Kaine whether all federally funded schools – public, public charter or voucher-funded private institutions – would be held to the same standards of accountability, the nominee refused to be pinned down. (What’s more, reported Politico’s Stanton, most of Michigan’s loosely overseen charters “perform below the state’s averages on tests.”)

In a nation where the overwhelming majority of K-12 students attend public schools, Betsy DeVos is out of touch with the concerns of millions of American families. The idea of her helping shape national education policy is alarming, and Susan Collins should step up and help stop DeVos in her tracks.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2juZJYx

The (Springfield) Republican, Jan. 31, 2017

The Federal Reserve’s first meeting of the new year, set for Tuesday and Wednesday, isn’t likely to generate many fireworks or any great surprises. Almost no one expects another interest-rate increase, though there’ll doubtless be more ahead down the road.

What will be most interesting, though, is what’s in the background: The nation’s central bank currently holds some $4.45 trillion worth of long-term bonds and other assets that it picked up in the years after the financial crash of 2008. A year before the meltdown, the Fed had less than $1 trillion in such holdings on its books.

In other words, the Fed will be looking to lighten its load at some point. Perhaps not immediately, and likely not in any kind of a dramatic fashion, but our nation’s central bank isn’t going to be holding onto such an unprecedented amount of securities forever.

While banking regulators generally have a pretty good idea of how their moves will influence the overall economy, the real-world implications of unwinding its current positions will need to be seen to be understood fully.

How did the Fed come to nearly quintuple its bond holdings? Simply put, once interest rates had been lowered to near zero and the economy was still deep in the doldrums, it needed to make another move. So it began the process known as quantitative easing. Though the terminology, like so much economic jargon, can make the matter seem opaque beyond all reason, the process is actually quite simply explained.

In quantitative easing, or QE, the Fed buys government bonds or other securities held by the giant banks. With this infusion of money, the banks, at least in theory, can ramp up their lending.

And the economy gets moving again.

This, however, leaves the Fed with gigantic bond holdings.

Which is where we are today.

There’s every reason to believe that regulators will be plenty happy to stand pat at present, and perhaps for some time down the road. But it’s important to note that our nation’s central bank isn’t likely to do nothing forever.

And that when it moves, the effects of its decision aren’t exactly predictable.

Those looking for a reprieve from the day-to-day craziness coming out of the White House could do worse than to keep one eye on the Fed.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2kr3ZrJ

The Providence Journal (R.I.), Jan. 29, 2017

A free and fearless press is essential to preserving our liberties. This is especially true in the face of an increasingly powerful government, with unprecedented technology at its disposal for spying on and punishing its political enemies.

The Founders knew that information and opinion are essential to freedom and justice, and placed the citizens’ right to a free press first in the list of amendments to the Constitution. Power under our system is vested in the people, who express their will through free elections. To make wise decisions, they must be informed – with hard facts, not just partisan spin. And to restrain tyranny, the press must report freely about government activities.

Thomas Jefferson famously observed: “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

It is deeply troubling, then, to see politicians increasingly brand journalists as opponents or the enemy, rather than as a vital part of the system. Too many elected officials exhibit disrespect for our free institutions. Some even want to use the government’s prosecutorial or taxing powers to stifle dissent about matters of public policy.

Last week, Steve Bannon, an influential political aide to Donald Trump, unleashed a disgusting diatribe against The New York Times and many in the media. Mr. Bannon argued that members of America’s free press had called the 2016 election wrong and had slanted their coverage against Mr. Trump.

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” he told The New York Times in an interview. “I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

In comments several days earlier, Mr. Trump said he was in a “running war” with the media and called journalists “among the most dishonest people on earth.”

Members of the media should strive to be fair to all sides, including Mr. Trump, in their reporting. But they must not be silent. They must report verified facts fearlessly so that citizens are fully informed, particularly when someone with no experience in politics and a fondness for authoritarian ideas assumes a powerful office.

Unfortunately, it has become a bipartisan sport for presidents to condemn anyone who challenges them. Early in President Obama’s term, his administration went after Fox News, whose prime-time lineup of conservative opinion hosts constantly berated him. Anita Dunn, the White director of communications, vowed to treat the network “like an opponent,” arguing, “we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”

The administration tried to deny the network access to executive branch events, but was forced to back down when the other networks rightly objected to that blatant attack on the First Amendment.

The political strategy of the Trump administration is obvious. Its noisy attacks on the press are designed to sow doubt in the minds of Americans about any reporting that might reflect poorly on the president or arouse opposition. To the extent the media fail to report fully and fairly about his administration, they will be playing into his hands.

The money and power going into partisan propaganda on all sides these days threaten to overwhelm the public’s ability to obtain accurate, verified facts. In these perilous times, our Founders’ vision seems wiser than ever: liberty cannot be sustained without our free press.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2jwa1aJ

The Nashua Telegraph (N.H.), Jan. 31, 2017

President Donald Trump’s advocates are quick to defend his executive order on immigration by pointing out it is not a ban on Muslims, but merely a stiffer vetting of refugees from countries where Muslims are a majority.

Trump’s measure prohibits admittance of refugees to the U.S., as well as temporarily freezing immigration from seven nations – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya. Refugees from Syria are indefinitely banned. Trump claims his executive order – already blocked by one federal judge – parallels a much quieter measure from former President Barack Obama in 2011 banning visas for Iraqi refugees for six months, although it had a more narrow focus and led to stronger vetting today.

While there are multiple contrasts between the restrictions implemented by the Obama and Trump administrations, there is one difference in how the two presidents went about implementing their policies.

Trump, who ran a flashy, non-substantive campaign that usurped the spotlight from all other presidential hopefuls, should understand the optics surrounding his decision.

Frankly, they’re awful.

Using an executive order, without any legislative or judicial dialogue, was an unreasonable approach and creates the perspective his administration is willing to step on civil liberties to protect American interests.

New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster called the executive order a violation of the state and federal constitutional rights that are fundamental to democracy.

“Religious liberty has been and always will be a bedrock principle of our country, and no president can change that truth,” Foster said in a statement. “Targeting immigrants and others because of their national origin or faith violates that core principle and ignores our history as a nation of immigrants.”

We strongly support any recommended vetting modifications from global security experts to improve public safety. We welcome a bipartisan, constructive back-and-forth on travel limitations to countries harboring deep ill will to Americans.

We cannot, however, support the poor execution of the Trump administration’s roll-out of this policy and the president’s not-so-hidden nationalistic message behind it.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2kS9OMf

The Rutland Herald (Vt.), Feb. 1, 2017

We are fortunate to live in a country where people are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

We are also fortunate to live in a country where people are entitled to hearings and legal counsel and bail.

That last one is often misunderstood.

A lot of people believe that the purpose of bail is to imprison a person who has been charged with a crime. It isn’t. In fact, holding somebody just because they stand accused runs counter to our state and federal constitutions.

The idea behind bail is that the state shouldn’t lightly infringe upon a person’s freedom until a judge or jury has had a chance to weigh the facts and reach a conclusion about a person’s guilt or innocence.

Bail provides a mechanism for people who are charged to retain their freedom until the legal system has run its course and they have had a chance to hear and challenge the evidence against them.

The whole idea is to ensure that a person will show up in court to answer the charges that have been brought.

Anyone who has sat through a bail hearing knows that a key factor evaluated by courts is the strength of a defendant’s ties to the community: Do they have family living locally? Do they own property? Do they have a job? If the answers to those questions are “yes,” judges will usually grant bail.

Sometimes bail is accompanied by a requirement that a defendant put up cash as collateral. More often, a defendant agrees to abide by a set of conditions pending trial — not to go certain places, see certain people or use certain substances are common ones.

But courts don’t grant bail or make freedom easily accessible to all defendants because judges also have to consider whether releasing a person on the presumption of innocence poses a threat to public safety.

We thought about that recently when we noticed two of the people arrested in last week’s big Rutland County drug bust were also arrested for heroin sales last February, according to Vermont State Police. The two men were released last year to await trial, but police said they were subject to conditions set by the court.

One of those conditions, we presume, was that they not possess or sell drugs.

And yet, there they were, smackdab in the middle of a police narcotics sweep.

That doesn’t make them guilty, but it raises a bunch of questions that seem worth asking.

First, does it really take a year for Vermont’s court system to adjudicate a couple of drug cases? Is that normal? Is it fair to either the defendants or the public for such cases to take that long? Do these guys have O.J.’s legal Dream Team, or could that time lag be a sign that something is seriously wrong with the state’s court system?

Our money is on the latter.

Court administrators, of course, might argue that the problem is nothing that couldn’t be remedied by allocating more taxpayer money to the courts to pay for more judges.

That may be true and is sure to be a topic for debate as the Legislature takes up the state budget.

But there may be interim solutions, too.

If heroin is the state’s biggest public health threat, then the people who sell the drug can reasonably be said to pose a danger to public health. In evaluating drugtrafficking charges at arraignment, perhaps it’s time for judges to give more weight not just to whether a suspect is likely to show up in court, but also how likely a suspected dealer might be to abide by conditions of release.

It’s a judgment call, to be sure. But a person with no job who is accused of supporting himself or herself through drug sales may be a candidate for high bail or even incarceration based on the possible threat to public health that may result from putting him or her back on the street to continue selling. If the evidence suggests they have no tangible means to support themselves, that should be a red flag for judges.

Defendants have rights, and bail shouldn’t be used to deprive them of those rights. But bail should and can be used to protect the public.

What it shouldn’t be is a synonym for “revolving door” when the public health is at stake.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2jVtkGN

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