Editorials from around New England
The Sandy Hook lawsuit is about to expose how the AR-15 is marketed to Americans. That’s good news for all of us.
The people who sell the weapon of choice for mass killers are going to have to reveal exactly how they peddle their message that wielding a weapon designed for military combat makes sense for ordinary civilians.
That’s good news for all of us. The mothers and fathers of the children slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, through their lawsuit against Remington Arms over the sale and marketing of AR-15 assault rifles, may succeed in bringing a sorely needed measure of accountability to the firearms industry.
The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday passed on taking up Remington’s appeal of a Connecticut Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for the Sandy Hook families to continue their suit against Remington, the manufacturer of the Bushmaster used in the slaying on Dec. 14, 2012. It was the right decision, and it sets the stage for a critical phase in the struggle against the NRA and the gun industry.
The AR-15 and its variants, the massively popular civilian version of the M-16 military assault rifle, have become “America’s rifle,” according to the National Rifle Association. They have also become the weapons of choice in mass murders — including the 2018 Parkville shooting (17 dead), the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting (26 dead), the 2017 Las Vegas shooting (58 dead, hundreds injured), the 2015 San Bernardino attack (14 dead), and, of course, the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Up until now, because of a 2005 federal law, the gun manufacturing industry has not been held accountable for its role in manufacturing, selling and marketing these weapons to those who would use them to kill. But the Sandy Hook families are seeking to change that.
They are seeking information about Remington’s marketing strategy for the Bushmaster AR-15. The question is whether gun manufacturers such as Remington actively marketed assault weapons such as the AR-15 “to civilians for criminal purposes" in violation of the state’s consumer protection laws, Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard Palmer wrote in the March decision.
“We also conclude that Congress has not clearly manifested an intent to extinguish the traditional authority of our legislature and our courts to protect the people of Connecticut from the pernicious practices alleged in the present case. The regulation of advertising that threatens the public’s health, safety, and morals has long been considered a core exercise of the states’ police powers,” Justice Palmer wrote.
Remington appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court on Tuesday announced that it would not overturn the decision, despite urging from the NRA, 22 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 10 states.
Now, Remington’s secret marketing strategy could be subject to subpoena in the lawsuit in Connecticut courts as the process of discovery in the case moves forward. The decision paves the way for other states to use the same strategy, based on their own consumer protection laws.
“The M.O. of any big industry is to reveal as little as possible,” Josh Koskoff, a lawyer for the families, said. “But in many ways the goal of this lawsuit is to shed light on those documents so the families can see how the gun used in this shooting was marketed, so we will do everything we can to insure that this is a transparent process.”
As the case moves forward, the courts may succeed in doing what Congress has been unable to — stop or slow the spread of weapons that should be off the streets. Those who disagree with the ruling lean on the Second Amendment, but the AR-15 is different from other rifles used for target shooting, hunting or legitimate recreational purposes. It is capable of rapid fire and destruction on a far greater scale. Such weapons do not belong in civilian hands.
The tobacco companies settled lawsuits after the truth of how they were marketing cigarettes came to light. Purdue Pharma is being held responsible for marketing Oxycontin when it knew the drug’s dangers. Now Remington is going to have to answer for its tactics as well.
This is an important step toward meaningful reform of a gun industry that for too long has been able to evade responsibility for its role in some of this nation’s saddest chapters.
Congress should act now to save ‘Dreamers’
Once again, President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are refusing to act on immigration reform. And once again, children brought to the United States without any say in the matter are the victims, their lives in danger of being torn asunder.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments on the Trump administration’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. A decision is expected by summer; if the administration is successful, some 700,000 people — including as many as 300 living in Maine — who have lived exemplary lives in the U.S. since being brought here as young children would be subject to deportation to countries they hardly know.
It never should have gotten this far. DACA was itself a reaction to congressional inaction, created in 2012 by President Barack Obama through executive action to temporarily protect undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors.
Under the program, immigrants are allowed to continue to live and work in the U.S. under renewable two-year work permits, though it does not provide a path to permanent legal residence or citizenship.
President Trump campaigned on ending the program. He has often expressed sympathy for the so-called Dreamers, raising hope for a compromise, but his actions haven’t lived up to it.
The president at first spoke about saving DACA in exchange for money for his billion-dollar border wall. But Trump disengaged from negotiations in 2018 over a bill — pushed by Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — that would have provided funding for border security as well as a path to citizenship for Dreamers. It fell apart when the president, at the 11th hour, indicated he would veto it.
The president was once again caught between his political base, which is irrationally afraid of immigrants and immigration, and doing the right thing for immigrant children — and for a country built on immigration.
This is the same president who took thousands of young children from their parents at the border, some never to meet again. He has imprisoned tens of thousands more when he could have instead pursued bipartisan remedies to real problems in the immigration system.
Once again, instead of taking on the hard task of governing, the president has decided to put people’s lives and livelihoods at risk.
DACA participants came forward on the government’s promise that they would not be deported if they followed the program’s rules and stayed out of trouble.
They came here, on average, at the age of 6. Almost all of them are working; most of the rest are in school. Among them are business owners and homeowners. They are parents of U.S. citizens, and they live, work and learn alongside native-born Americans.
Each year, Dreamers contribute $42 billion to the economy. They pay more than $3 billion in local, state and federal taxes, and contribute $2 billion to Social Security and $470 million into Medicare.
Those aren’t just numbers — they are a testament to how tightly Dreamers are woven into the communities they grew up in and contribute to. They have no connection to the home countries they left years ago as young children, and have proved themselves to be good citizens here in all but name only.
They don’t deserve to have their future decided by a Supreme Court concerned over things like presidential power and prosecutorial discretion, not the logistics and humanity of the matter.
Instead, the Senate should pass the Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers and other similarly situated immigrants. It has already passed in the House, and such a move is widely supported by Americans.
The Dreamers aren’t political pawns any more than children migrants are, and they shouldn’t be treated that way.
Technology won't save us from distracted driving
Newburyport Daily News
Here's some sobering news as we wait, likely in vain, for the state Legislature to pass a hands-free cellphone law before the end of the year: Our cars aren't going to save us from our own distraction.
According to AAA, the automated emergency braking systems found in many newer cars work only intermittently and are "completely ineffective" at night.
The not-for-profit auto club called the results of its study "alarming," noting that 75% of the roughly 6,000 pedestrian fatalities happen at night, a percentage that has grown over the past decade — coinciding with an increase in in-car distractions from smartphones.
“Pedestrian fatalities are on the rise, proving how important the safety impact of these systems could be when further developed,” AAA spokeswoman Mary Maguire said earlier this fall. “But, our research found that current systems are far from perfect and still require an engaged driver behind the wheel.”
The key word here is "engaged." The AAA's testing, which involved four midsize sedans equipped with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, found the systems couldn't consistently overcome even the most modest of infractions, like coming to a timely stop when traveling 30 mph in a 20 mph school zone. They stand no chance with the modern driver — sending a text, twiddling the radio dial or scarfing a morning Egg McMuffin — behind the wheel.
It's clear the new technology lends drivers some confidence. But as the AAA report shows, it's a false sense of security:
"Overall, the systems performed best in the instance of the adult crossing in front of a vehicle traveling at 20 mph during the day," AAA reported. "In this case, the systems avoided a collision 40% of the time. But, at the higher speed of 30 mph, most systems failed to avoid a collision with the simulated pedestrian target."
— When presented with the classic "kid dashing out from between two parked cars" scenario, the braking systems failed 89% of the time. In other words, a child would have been struck 9 out of 10 times.
— When approaching two "adults" standing alongside the road, with the vehicle traveling at 20 mph, a collision occurred 80% of the time.
— "At night, none of the systems detected or reacted to the adult pedestrian."
Technology isn't going to save us from ourselves. And in the case of smartphones, it is clearly making driving more dangerous. Lawmakers have been quibbling over the details of hands-free driving legislation for the better part of a year. There's no excuse for not voting it into law before the holidays.
A housing shortage built on flat wages
New Hampshire, like much of the nation, is suffering from a housing shortage that ranges from serious to severe.
The apartment vacancy rate in the state is under 1%. Strong demand for shelter has allowed landlords to raise rents and be picky about prospective tenants. Making matters worse, investors, in the wake of the 2008 recession, began buying up millions of what were once entry-level homes and turning them into rental units. Rental costs are outpacing the ability of many people, including older adults and young families, to pay them.
The country is short at least a million housing units, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. Economist Russ Thibeault of Applied Economic Research in Laconia estimates that the state is short 10,000 to 15,000 housing units. The lack of supply, and high housing and rental costs, are hurting the state’s ability to attract employers and retain employees.
Late last month, Gov. Chris Sununu announced the formation of a task force to address the problem and backing for legislation designed to both remove barriers to affordable housing and provide incentives to increase the housing stock. We applaud what is a bipartisan effort that includes tax incentives to induce developers to build workforce housing and changes to zoning regulations to permit more housing units on less land.
The task force, in its initial assessment released by the governor’s office, said, “In light of the threat posed to our economy by low vacancy, inventory, and affordability, our view is that the State must acknowledge that we face a housing crisis and that, without statewide action, we put our economic sustainability under unnecessary stress and threaten the current positive trends in our economic health.”
That summation of the problem would fit the housing situation in communities on both the nation’s coasts and every other city or town in between that’s been determined by popular demand to be a desirable place to live. It’s why, in a return to what was once known as “company housing” Facebook and Google recently announced that they intend to spend several billion dollars to subsidize the building of workforce housing in the California communities they call home.
The recommendations of the housing task force, and legislation proposed by New Hampshire lawmakers, are likely to help. But we’re under no illusions that they’ll do more than dent the housing shortage.
The economics of housing in America no longer work. They can’t work when home prices, for a host of reasons, continue to rise while wages remain essentially flat, as they have for the past four decades. In fact, real wages declined last year and more than 60% of workers got no pay raise in 2018, according to the financial websites Marketwatch and Bankrate. Meanwhile, ever-increasing health care costs ate away at the ability of households to save for a down payment on a home. Student loan debt makes saving even harder.
The cost of land, labor and construction materials, the latter higher thanks to Trump’s tariffs, means that developers can no longer afford to build a $200,000 or even $250,000 home and make much of a profit, if any. The median sale price of a home in New Hampshire last month was $315,000.
The housing shortage afflicting New Hampshire and the nation won’t be eliminated until the wage shortfall afflicting most Americans is fixed first.
Better access to Boston
Rhode Island’s economy depends greatly on two things: the condition of the national economy, and what is happening just up the road in Boston. The capital of Massachusetts has become a bona fide jobs machine. Indeed, Glassdoor, the jobs listing site, last month reported that Boston leads the entire nation in job growth; the city saw a more than 8% growth in job listings over the past year. That growth extends across myriad industries, and is projected to continue over the next decade.
Large numbers of people in Rhode Island already work in Boston every day, making an arduous commute by highway or taking fairly slow commuter trains.
It seems clear that setting up closer links with Boston and further integrating our economies makes a great deal of sense. Thus, it is good news that an oversight panel from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has come out with a splendid idea to help that process along.
“Echoing calls by mass transit advocates in Massachusetts and Rhode Island in recent years, the Fiscal and Management Control Board called for trains between Boston and Providence to run every 15-20 minutes, roughly twice as frequently as they do during current peak-hour service,” Journal Staff Writer Patrick Anderson reported in a November 4 story (“MBTA board wants Providence-Boston trains every 20 minutes”).
The idea is that the Providence to Boston corridor should more resemble a subway than a long-distance train. Such an approach would help integrate the Rhode Island and Massachusetts economy — and reduce traffic. Already about 25,000 ride the Providence/Stoughton line each day, and more frequent service would certainly see large gains in ridership. The MBTA panel also recommended upgrading the system’s locomotives, phasing out the aging diesel locomotives it currently uses in favor of electric rail cars. This too seems like a wise investment.
The Control Board also recommended high-level platforms at all the stations along the Providence Line. That would speed up boarding for riders and make the train cars more accessible.
As always, the big issue will be the cost. “The Control Board resolution requests $1.5 billion for the first phase of the commuter rail overhaul that includes the Providence Line,” Mr. Anderson reported. “A separate MBTA report estimates it could cost $40 billion by 2030 to electrify and upgrade the entire commuter rail system to regional rail.” The MBTA would do well to take whatever steps possible to keep costs low, as Massachusetts lawmakers will have to foot the bill for the project. Far too often, bloated spending on infrastructure projects undermines the case for smart infrastructure investments.
But, while critics are already blasting the potential cost, the Control Board “has a lot of credibility and has put a lot of consideration into this. It will carry weight with the MBTA and legislature,” Ethan Finlan, TransitMatters regional rail campaign leader, told The Journal. “It would be very short-sighted if it were disregarded.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo has been a big booster of improving the Providence to Boston MBTA line, not only calling for increasing frequency but making the ride faster too. It can take up to 74 minutes to ride from Providence to Boston.
The MBTA’s proposal did not include the express Providence-to-Boston route that she has suggested, but it still seems like a big step in the right direction. All aboard!
College alliance a sign of the times
A lot of people are understandably upset at the news of Marlboro College's "strategic alliance" with Emerson College in Boston.
As part of the agreement, which has yet to be signed, Emerson will get Marlboro's $30 million endowment and real estate holdings appraised at more than $10 million, though Emerson has expressed no indication that it wants the property. In exchange, Emerson's Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies program will be renamed the Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College, where current Marlboro students will be enrolled and Marlboro faculty will teach. Among the downsides: the local campus will close at the end of the academic year, dozens of support staff will lose their jobs, and the town will lose part of its soul.
Those are some hard pills to swallow. Now that the news has spread, complaints and accusations are flying all around on social media about mismanagement and missed opportunities. But the harsh truth is, the writing has been on the wall for quite some time. Small colleges all over New England have been struggling in recent years and closing at an alarming rate, including three in Vermont just this year — Southern Vermont College in Bennington, the College of St. Joseph in Rutland, and Green Mountain College in Poultney.
Marlboro College itself has been struggling to fill its classrooms for several years, with attendance dropping to about 150 for this current year. The school has also been under the scrutiny of the New England Commission of Higher Education, the regional accreditation agency which has expressed concern about the college's financial viability due to declining enrollment.
Marlboro College officials are billing the agreement as the best option to preserve the local college's legacy, albeit in Boston.
"If we don't merge with Emerson, it's pretty clear we will lose accreditation and we will close anyway," said Kate Ratcliff, a professor of American studies and gender studies at Marlboro, during a weekend meeting in Marlboro.
Ratcliff was a member of the task force that worked on the college's future, as was William Edelglass, who is on partial leave from his position as a professor of philosophy and environmental studies.
Ten years ago, Edelglass said, during the last full accreditation process, "The warning signs were flashing." At the time, said Edelglass, tuition revenue was just under $8 million. Now, it's less than $2 million.
"There are no real good options," said Ratcliff. "The merger with Emerson is by far the best option for the college and the community."
Over this past week there have been countless pleas for officials to seek another alternative, one that would keep Marlboro College in Marlboro and ensure its vitality for years to come. Unfortunately, changing demographics are not working in the college's favor.
According to Nathan D. Grawe, author of "Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education," higher education faces a looming demographic storm. Decades-long patterns in fertility, migration, and immigration persistently nudge the country toward the Southwest. As a result, the Northeast and Midwest — traditional higher education strongholds — expect to lose 5 percent of their college-aged populations between now and the mid-2020s. Furthermore, and in response to the Great Recession, child-bearing has plummeted. In 2026, when the front edge of this birth dearth reaches college campuses, the number of college-aged students will drop almost 15 percent in just 5 years.
There also has been a seismic shift in attitudes about the value of a four-year liberal arts degree when compared to the rising cost. Gone are the days when young people would go to college to get a broad-based education while they figure out what career they want to pursue. With the high cost of education continuing to climb, it's better to have a plan for how to pay for that education and how to make a living in your chosen field.
According to a recent poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, a common thread among many young Americans is a concern over the cost of higher education. Nearly 8 in 10 said they think college affordability is a very or extremely serious problem, and a majority said they were at least somewhat concerned about debt. The same poll shows that more young people are considering less expensive, more targeted options such as vocational school or an associate's degree at a community college. They can then go back for more training or education later as they follow a specific career path.
The one bright spot in all of this drama is the Marlboro Music Festival, which recently signed a 99-year lease to host its activities on the campus and is currently constructing the Jerome & Celia Bertin Reich Building and a new residence hall at a cost of $12.7 million. So regardless of what happens with Marlboro College, cultural activities on the campus will continue. Instead of fighting against the inevitable with regards to the college, it would be best to expend more energy on new opportunities. Think about how upset everyone was when the Austine School for the Deaf announced it was closing down after more than 100 years. Today that entire campus is bustling with activity cultivated and managed by the Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development.