Recent editorials of regional and national interest from New England’s newspapers:
Five to 10 days before power is restored in Connecticut after Isaias? Not acceptable. Not during coronavirus.
Tropical Storm Isaias was an extraordinary storm, hitting harder and doing far more damage than many anticipated.
And in this extraordinary moment, with the evolving threat of coronavirus still very much with us, the state’s electric utilities, Eversource and United Illuminating — as well as the state of Connecticut and the federal government — must respond with extraordinary efforts.
Some 720,000 customers were without power in the hours immediately after the storm. Entire towns were in the dark, and generators hummed through the night.
The scene across Connecticut was frightening on Wednesday morning, but it wasn’t just the downed tree limbs and wires, the roads littered with crushed leaves and branches that were alarming.
It was the lines.
Lines at gas stations. Lines for coffee at the few open Dunkins and Starbucks. Lines full of people not always wearing masks, not always maintaining social distance.
This weather disaster is happening in the middle of another disaster — coronavirus — and the efforts everyone has taken to be able to work from home and avoid human contact are all at risk.
People are commuting back to their offices in Hartford and Connecticut’s other major cities, some for the first time in months, so they can work, access the internet, charge their phones and maybe shower. The risk of spreading coronavirus is much greater now.
The people of Connecticut must be able to adhere to the good habits we’ve reluctantly grown accustomed to — most importantly, working from home. That means we need electricity.
Sources have told The Courant that it could be five to 10 days before power is fully restored.
That is absolutely unacceptable.
Eversource and United Illuminating have pledged to work as quickly as possible, and Gov. Ned Lamont issued a state of emergency on Wednesday, which will enable federal resources in the restoration efforts. Thousands of electric crews are said to be en route.
That’s great, but so far it sounds like the usual efforts — the kind we saw during the double-whammy of 2011′s Hurricane Irene and October snowstorm, when many were without power for 10 days during each storm.
The pandemic makes this situation immensely more critical. We cannot be forced into situations that will put us at risk of spreading the coronavirus — and with so many people in rural parts of the state now without water as well as electricity, staying at home simply isn’t an option.
Eversource and United Illuminating must use whatever financial muscle they have to end this crisis in record time. The usual responses won’t cut it.
It’s hard to forget the company’s response to the October snowstorm in 2011, when Jeffrey Butler, Connecticut Light and Power’s chief operating officer, issued defensive and contradictory statements about when power might be restored to some 880,000 customers in the dark.
Eversource officials learned from that, and they should be well aware of the importance of their work in the coming hours. The critical nature of the situation calls for innovative responses, not the same old playbook.
At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Gov. Lamont spoke of the lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy, saying the utility has seen “hundreds of millions invested” that might have limited the scale of damages from Isaias. “But 10 years later,” Mr. Lamont said,” this is one of the worst outages we’ve ever had. To be blunt, I don’t see much progress made for all the investments we’ve made.”
“I want to hear a lot more urgency,” Mr. Lamont said. “I want to get this thing solved in 72 hours.” He also called for an investigation into “a wholly inadequate response to another storm.”
Good steps, but an investigation won’t get the power back on by the weekend.
Of course, Connecticut isn’t alone. Including New York and New Jersey, some 2.5 million customers are without power in the tri-state area. So the demand for assistance from across the nation is high.
Gov. Lamont must use the leadership skills he’s developed during the coronavirus crisis and help find a way out of this before the coronavirus takes advantage of the weaknesses in the system and resumes its deadly spread. Eversource must respond to the challenge better than it ever has before.
And for the rest of us, masks (over the nose, not under the chin) and social distancing have never been more important.
Who will police Springfield’s cops?
Under the Trump administration, the US Department of Justice has largely abandoned its oversight and accountability mandate over local police departments. In fact, since Trump took office more than three years ago, the DOJ has launched only one investigation into unconstitutional policing and systemic misconduct in local law enforcement departments, compared with almost two dozen during the Obama administration. The target? The police force in Springfield, the third-largest city in Massachusetts.
It’s easy to see why after reading the findings of the DOJ probe, revealed last month and detailed in a recent Globe story looking at the history of misconduct at the Springfield Police Department. It’s an appalling collection of blatant police abuse. The DOJ, in its 27-months-long investigation, found that officers in Springfield’s narcotics unit routinely escalated encounters with civilians when there was no need and used excessive force, including punching people in the face and using head strikes, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. What’s more, officers who engaged in these practices faced little to no consequences. One narcotics detective told a 15-year-old suspect being questioned: “I could crush your (expletive) skull and (expletive) get away with it,” as he was captured on camera.
The DOJ concluded it was a pattern “directly attributable to systemic deficiencies in policies, which fail to require detailed and consistent use-of-force reporting, and accountability systems that do not provide meaningful reviews of uses of force.”
And yet, contrary to what is common practice, the DOJ did not force Springfield Police to sign a consent decree, or a court-mandated agreement, to ensure reform. Instead, the report concluded with four recommendations for the department: to improve procedures for reporting use-of-force incidents; to implement new use-of-force training; to revise policies for internal investigations; and to implement more accountability mechanisms. These remedies, while urgent steps in the right direction, are mere suggestions without mandated enforcement from the feds. Had the DOJ negotiated and entered into a consent decree with the Springfield police, similar to one of the 14 consent decrees signed by the Obama administration, the reform plan would have been supervised and enforced by a federal judge. Instead, any policing reform is left to Springfield police leadership.
The pattern of brazen misconduct and brutality in Springfield is shocking. “There is the 17-year-old punched by an officer as he rode a motorbike past members of the narcotics unit as they made unrelated arrests,” the Globe story notes. “And the slight middle-aged man punched in the face during a drug arrest despite not acting aggressively himself.”
Naturally, civilians have sued the department repeatedly. Between 2006 and 2019, the city has paid more than $5.25 million settling police misconduct suits. It’s an outsized cost to Springfield taxpayers.
For her part, Springfield police commissioner Cheryl Clapprood has pledged to collaborate with DOJ and follow the federal recommendations, some of which she has already started to implement. She also said that upon reading the DOJ report, she immediately ordered plainclothes narcotics detectives to wear body cameras.
But a consent decree may still be possible — and may even be in Clapprood’s best interest. According to one review of DOJ’s civil rights cases, “many police chiefs who have been through the process of a DOJ investigation said that the end result was a better police department — with improved policies on critical issues such as use of force, better training of officers, and more advanced information systems that help police executives to know what is going on in the department and manage their employees.” They added that, in some cases, “consent decrees have been instrumental in giving chiefs the authority and the resources to act.”
Indeed, the investigation is exhibit A in why the feds need to get back into the business of consent decrees — in Springfield and across the country. This is an era when DOJ has already retreated from its congressionally mandated duty of policing local police misconduct, a dereliction that has come under bigger scrutiny recently after George Floyd’s death at the hands of four officers from the Minneapolis Police Department, an agency that the DOJ should be probing to find out whether cops there systematically violated civil rights. Reforms may come to the Springfield police, but without an enforceable agreement, there’s a real risk that progress will stall. Given the severity of the findings, Springfield residents deserve a rock-solid assurance for change, and that’s only possible if the federal government polices the police with tough recommendations that have consequences if they’re not met.
Tourism-related COVID cases warrant close scrutiny
Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel/CentralMaine.com
Every indication is that the sacrifices Mainers have made and the precautions they have taken, perhaps with a little luck, have kept COVID-19 in check. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t around.
Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor last week said it had been contacted by at least 35 out-of-state tourists who were carrying the disease on the island. Many of them had taken a COVID-19 test in their home states before coming to Maine, but because of delays in results only found out they were positive after they got here — and after they had moved about the communities there. The remainder were assumed positive because of their close contacts with the others.
Spokespeople from the two largest hospital networks in the state, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health, told the Press Herald they knew of no such incidents at their hospitals, but said that it is possible they had occurred. A hospital in York County said they had heard such stories anecdotally “many times.”
Of course, the hospitals would only know if they were contacted by the tourists themselves. There are any number of scenarios under which someone with the virus could have come here and spent time without anyone here knowing. And the Press Herald reported recently that nonresidents were testing positive at a rate four times that of residents.
The number of infected visitors, however, is still very small, and there are no indications yet that an out-of-state tourist has spread the virus here.
It’s encouraging, too, that most visitors come to Maine from states that have taken the pandemic seriously, and where preventative measures are widely accepted as the way of life now.
But we should assume that what happened in Bar Harbor has happened elsewhere in the state. Health officials and hospitals need to keep a close eye on cases in the coming weeks to see if there is any increase related to summer tourism. The state should be prepared to track out-of-state cases, which pose a challenge for the contact tracers who are tasked with identifying people who have been around someone with the virus.
And, as always, it’s best to act as if COVID-19 is around even if the chances are low that an infected person is nearby. We know that measures such as physical distancing, face coverings, ventilation and cleanliness can keep the virus from spreading.
Making those small sacrifices can help everyone, out-of-state tourists and Mainers alike, enjoy the summer to the extent possible, without jeopardizing Maine’s status as one of the safest places to be in terms of COVID-19 — and putting at risk months of hard work.
Can it happen here?
In the last week, there have been two references to Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here.”
The novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a demagogue who is elected President of the United States, after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force. The novel’s plot centers on Vermont newspaper editor Doremus Jessup’s opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion.
Critics of President Trump point to eerie similarities to what is happening to our government right now.
Also in the last week, the president has made headlines for suggesting the upcoming election will be rigged, and that fraud will be so rampant that there is no way he can accept the results come Nov. 4.
On Monday, he insisted he has the authority to issue an executive order on mail-in ballots, whose increasing use, he argues, could increase election fraud and uncertainty, though it is unclear what he could do to curtail the practice.
“I have the right to do it,” Trump told reporters. “We haven’t gotten there yet, we’ll see what happens.”
Republicans are planning to file a lawsuit this week to try to block Nevada’s expansion of mail-in voting.
Nearly all election procedures are governed on a state-by-state basis, with the remainder set by Congress or enshrined in the Constitution. There is no precedent or apparent authority for Trump to try to curtail the use of mail-in ballots by executive order, though he could use a document to formalize his opposition to the practice.
Trump’s claimed authority comes days after he publicly floated a delay to the Nov. 3 presidential election, a notion was met with swift bipartisan blowback.
Trump has increasingly sought to cast doubt on November’s election and the expected pandemic-induced surge in mail-in and absentee voting — particularly as he has found himself trailing in public and private polling. Trump has called remote voting options the “biggest risk” to his re-election. His campaign and the Republican Party have sued to combat the practice, which was once a significant advantage for the GOP.
However, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting and the states that use it exclusively say they have necessary safeguards in place to ensure that a hostile foreign actor doesn’t disrupt the vote. Election security experts say voter fraud is rare in all forms of balloting, including by mail.
But something else happened in the last week, too.
In an episode of “Axios on HBO,” Trump discusses his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the upcoming election and much more with National Political Correspondent Jonathan Swan. It was taped last week and aired Monday.
Trump does not comprehend how his words and actions might be affecting those who don’t believe the “fake news” and only believe him.
Which is why he disregards the deaths of 1,000 Americans a day, saying “It is what it is.”
Weed out the weak. Keep the fear.
In the same interview, he brags about how many have been arrested at protests, and how unmarked, unnamed ICE and Homeland agents are better than local police, for the safety of those local police.
Weed out objection. Keep the fear.
And repeating that no election can be fair at this time suggests an unwillingness to budge.
Create doubt. Keep the fear.
As chaotic and desperate as his rhetoric feels sometimes, Trump has a plan. He knows what he’s going to do, because he’s creating the perfect context for it.
It feels like ... well ... fiction.
Lewis’ 1935 novel creates an obliteration of America as we know it, with a totalitarian leader. But citizens do not flourish and grow, they are reduced and marginalized and serve only the leader and his minions.
Americans do not know what this administration’s end game looks like. We have not been privy to the overall plan. But we do need to be paying attention, asking hard questions, finding out exactly how what is happening at the highest levels of this nation will affect our lives, our bank accounts and our rights.
We have seen the early chapters. We can’t let it happen here.