Editorial Roundup: New England

Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. February 14, 2024.

Editorial: Who do you trust?

This is going to feel like a cautionary tale. That’s because it is.

The nation’s top cybersecurity agency has launched a program aimed at boosting election security in the states, shoring up support for local offices and hoping to provide reassurance to voters that this year’s presidential elections will be safe and accurate.

Vermont’s own former director of elections in the Secretary of State’s office, Will Senning, started there this week. Vermont has been a leader in the nation when it comes to safeguarding elections. It is work that started under former Secretary of State Jim Condos and has been carried over to Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas. Condos and now Copeland Hanzas seem assured Vermont is ready for the 2024 election cycle, which begins March 5 with the presidential primary.

Officials with the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), are introducing the program to the National Association of State Election Directors and National Association of Secretaries of State.

For state and local election officials, the list of security challenges keeps growing. Among them: potential cyberattacks waged by foreign governments, criminal ransomware gangs attacking computer systems and the persistence of election misinformation that has led to harassment of election officials and undermined public confidence.

You don’t have to look far to find recent examples that are cause for concern. Just in the past few weeks, AI-generated robocalls surfaced in New Hampshire before the state’s presidential primary and a cyberattack affecting the local government in Fulton County, Georgia, has created challenges for its election office.

The prospect of hostile governments abroad attacking election systems has been a particular concern this year for the agency. In an interview, Eric Goldstein, CISA’s executive assistant director for cybersecurity, described “a really difficult cybersecurity environment” that includes “extraordinary advances by nation-state adversaries China, Russia, Iran, North Korea.”

CISA was formed in the aftermath of the 2016 election, when Russia sought to interfere with a multipronged effort that included accessing and releasing campaign emails and scanning state voter registration systems for vulnerabilities. Election systems were designated as critical infrastructure, alongside the nation’s banks, dams and nuclear power plants, opening them up to receiving additional support from the federal government.

The program announced this week includes 10 new hires, including Senning, all of whom join the federal agency with extensive election experience. They will be based throughout the country and join other staff already in place that have been conducting cyber and physical security reviews for election offices that request them.

Here’s the cautionary part of the AI story unfolding around us.

Microsoft confirmed this week that U.S. adversaries — chiefly Iran and North Korea and to a lesser extent Russia and China — are beginning to use generative artificial intelligence to mount or organize offensive cyber operations.

According to The Associated Press, Microsoft said it detected and disrupted, in collaboration with business partner OpenAI, threats that used or attempted to exploit AI technology they had developed.

In a blog post, the Redmond, Washington, company said the techniques were “early-stage” and neither “particularly novel or unique” but that it was important to expose them publicly as U.S. rivals leveraging large-language models to expand their ability to breach networks and conduct influence operations.

Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI, and the announcement coincided with its release of a report noting that generative AI is expected to enhance malicious social engineering, leading to more sophisticated deepfakes and voice cloning. A threat to democracy in a year where over 50 countries will conduct elections, magnifying disinformation and already occurring, the AP reported.

Last April, the director of CISA, Jen Easterly, told Congress that “there are two epoch-defining threats and challenges. One is China, and the other is artificial intelligence.”

It is also worth mentioning that the CEO of OpenAI said this week that the dangers that keep him awake at night regarding artificial intelligence are the “very subtle societal misalignments” that could make the systems wreak havoc.

Sam Altman told the World Governments Summit in Dubai that AI needs oversight. “There’s some things in there that are easy to imagine where things really go wrong. And I’m not that interested in the killer robots walking on the street direction of things going wrong,” Altman said. “I’m much more interested in the very subtle societal misalignments where we just have these systems out in society and through no particular ill intention, things just go horribly wrong.”

It comes down to trust. AI provides the tools with which anyone can have doubts about information they are seeing, hearing or sharing. As thrilling as it is to see the potential of AI becoming a reality, we are glad CISA is creating another layer of protection. Now we just need to create a board of overseers for AI … before AI does?


Rutland Herald. February 10, 2024.

Editorial: Finding balance

It’s difficult not to feel some anxiety about the state of the world at this moment.

Close to home, we are seeing our elected officials struggling mightily with school and municipal budgets. Pending changes to state law may throw Town Meeting Day — less than a month away now — into chaos. For many communities, there is a thin line between providing a solid education for our kids and paying for it. Now it would seem we have come to that moment where taxpayers need to make some very hard decisions. In turn, angry taxpayers will blame elected officials (who built and proposed the warned budgets), and those elected officials will blame lawmakers who imposed new factors into a complicated funding formula. Ultimately, no one is happy. Fortunately, voters will get to decide on change — locally in March; then in November, for statewide office and, more importantly, for state lawmakers.

We have a presidential campaign in play that — every day — pounds a wedge deeper into our nation. It, too, is not the least bit satisfying, nor is it helpful. Quite the contrary: It is bringing out the worst in us. Rather than dragging the nation through a tedious, made-for-cable TV campaign season, wouldn’t it be nice to suspend the campaign until Nov. 1, and then give the old fellas a few days to duke it out in order to sway that bloc of undecided voters. (Nearly everyone else has already made up their mind, and it would take a seismic shift to move them.)

And then globally … bloodshed, politically motivated and financed. It is a vicious cycle we are a part of.

For many of us, the escape of the next few days is all-American. There is the Super Bowl (and those commercials), quickly followed by Valentine’s Day. Apparently, gambling and consumerism is supposed to make us feel better.

We would offer a pause.

Between Seasonal Affective Disorder, winter doldrums, and general anxiety, we would submit that there are things that we can do to move inward. That can be contributing at a community level, or individually.

The fourth section of this Weekender edition is always full of interviews and information about creativity. Arts Editor Jim Lowe does an extraordinary job each week pulling together listings and offerings in both performance and visual arts. With his decades of meeting and getting to know Vermont’s vast arts community, he and his team of writers take us behind the scenes of performers and performances, and show us the spark that is the unique potential of each artist being profiled. These are people of passion and talent.

As a community, we are richer for indulging in the creativity of others. It provides us with perspective and, sometimes, motivation — not to create art, per se, but to step out of our ennui to tackle that “project” we have wanted to do forever now. It motivates.

We would argue that Vermont is one of the most fortunate states because of its size, and its large arts community, that it provides easy access to high-quality (and some amateur) works and shows. There are plenty of museums and galleries, performance venues and even public art to explore and enjoy.

But there are other ways to come together around our communities as well.

Regularly, you can find listings for local game nights, or knitting circles, book clubs, study groups, and even music jams, and the like. Between “screens” and a certain level of isolation that we have accepted due to the pandemic, some of us have forgotten how to be socially interactive. We are social creatures, after all, and as much as we profess “not to like people,” we need the interactions. Joining small, like-minded communities to expand our horizons and to meet new folks is an easy, rewarding distraction from the din of the rest of our lives.

If you really want to slow things down in order to connect in a meaningful way, we would suggest a notion that almost feels old-fashioned in its simplicity: write a letter. Not an email. Put a pen to paper, share thoughts and insights, and sign your name (when was the last time you really did that), and then drop it into the mail to rattle someone else’s mailbox down the road. It’s a simple gesture that is always surprising and welcoming, and it usually yields a proportional response.

Lastly, we will just say: breathe. Consider where you live, and how fortunate you are to have this natural beauty and vast resources around you. Even in the hard months of winter, there is much to consider outside, whether it is enjoying birds at the feeder, walking in fields looking for tracks, taking time to enjoy the snow with family and friends, or taking in the night sky. “The fresh air will do you good” is an adage that, at least in Vermont, is spot on. Taking even a minute to focus on the deep breaths around us can be grounding and invigorating. It is a spiritual connection to our surroundings.

Sure, you can also lean into other “distractions.” Go to the library and get out some classics you’ve never read; write a poem (they make great Valentines); start a hobby; or get out and volunteer.

It’s too easy to get overwhelmed and intimidated by the news cycles. We need to balance that chaos with routines and rituals that bring us back to our community and ourselves. In those moments of knowing, the chaos can feel far more manageable.


Boston Globe. February 14, 2024.

Editorial: Healey’s high court picks send message that outsiders need not apply

And the optics of nominating a former partner are just plain awful.

Surely a smart politician like Governor Maura Healey knows that optics count. And surely she also had to know that the optics around nominating her former longtime partner to the state’s highest court are just dreadful — the obvious qualifications of Appeals Court Judge Gabrielle Wolohojian notwithstanding.

The nomination puts an unnecessary spotlight on Wolohojian — and will continue to do so as she navigates the often tricky legal waters should she, as expected, win confirmation to the Supreme Judicial Court from the Governor’s Council, the eight-member elected body charged by the state constitution with approving all judicial appointments.

If she’s confirmed, Wolohojian will then have to figure out if and when to recuse herself from cases involving Healey and her administration. The court’s rules call for judges to step aside from a case if a judge has a “personal bias or prejudice concerning a party.” None of us need to know the circumstances of Healey and Wolohojian’s breakup, but it beggars belief to imagine that the judge has no “personal bias,” positively or negatively, toward her ex — who is arguably a party in all manner of lawsuits involving state government.

As the Code of Judicial Conduct states, judges “shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.” So here too optics count.

But if the nomination creates potential headaches for Wolohojian, even more so it puts the spotlight on Healey and a pattern of appointments that suggests she has a narrow vision of what makes a court great and what makes a nominee a superstar.

“There is no one more qualified. I am very comfortable in saying that,” Healey told reporters last week after announcing her nomination of Wolohojian. “If you look at her record and you look at her career, as a lawyer and then as a judge these past 16 years on the Appeals Court, there’s no one more qualified or more prepared.”

Healey was fortunate to get not one but two unanticipated nominations to the SJC — unanticipated because neither departing justice, Elspeth Cypher and David Lowy, had reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. She could have used these nominations to make some truly outside-the-box choices, to think about the direction of the court and the difficult choices it will have to make in the years ahead over issues that perhaps a decade ago were virtually unknown. In the way that Margaret Marshall, who served on the SJC for 14 years, 11 of those years as chief justice, did, including writing the decision that opened the way for Massachusetts to become the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage.

Marshall was vice president and general counsel at Harvard University at the time of her appointment.

The brilliant former US Solicitor Charles Fried served on the SJC for four years, returning in 1999 to the teaching post he left at Harvard Law School to join the court.

By all accounts, Wolohojian’s experience and character are beyond reproach. But Healey’s judgment is not. Was there truly “no one” more qualified? Or was the search too narrow — and the nomination made too rapidly?

Was there, for example, no one from the western part of the state? There used to be a tradition on the court of reserving at least one seat for a justice from “out west,” but that seems to have ended after the 2016 retirement of Justice Francis Spina .

“You know, I don’t want the fact that (Wolohojian) had a personal relationship with me to deprive the Commonwealth of a person who’s most qualified for the position,” Healey said at that same impromptu news conference.

But that would ring truer if it weren’t for the fact that Wolohojian is the second high court nominee to come from Healey’s own inner circle. In December she nominated state Solicitor Bessie Dewar to the SJC. Again, Dewar is eminently well qualified for the job, but it was Healey who as attorney general had named Dewar solicitor in 2016.

Dewar also faces potential areas for conflicts as cases she may have handled earlier bubble up to the SJC.

There is no question that Wolohojian is qualified for the job. But that’s not the only factor that officials must consider. It would behoove members of the Governor’s Council, which is scheduled to hold a hearing on Wolohojian’s appointment on Feb. 21, to inquire of the nominee how she handled potential conflicts during her years on the Appeals Court that included the time Healey was attorney general and the two were a couple. And if confirmed, how will she interpret the court’s requirement to avoid ruling on cases where her “impartiality might reasonably be questioned”?

Governors get the judiciary they want. It is not unknown — and not at all improper — for the governor’s chief legal counsel to try to recruit qualified nominees, especially in an attempt to get a more diverse bench.

In fact, part of the mandate of the special five-member Supreme Judicial Court Nominating Commission Healey set up in September was to seek judicial candidates from “a cross-section of our community, representing not only geographically diverse parts of the Commonwealth, but also our citizen’s diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, and economic status.”

And, yes, candidates must apply for the position — and fill out a lengthy application. A spokesperson for the governor said “nearly two dozen candidates from across the state” were considered for the two vacancies.

But the unfortunate message this latest nomination sends is that this isn’t the kind of open process the nominating commission idea was intended to create, the wide net that should be cast for such positions.

In fact 2 of the 5 members of the commission for the SJC appointments were the governor’s chief of staff and chief legal counsel — an insider arrangement that from the start says “outsiders need not apply.”

Healey could have made a bold choice. She didn’t. She picked a person she knows well and in doing so did that nominee and the high court a disservice.


Boston Herald. February 11, 2024.

Editorial: Mass. caught in migrant crisis cycle

The median home price in Boston is $800,000, at last count. For Massachusetts, it’s $616,450, according to BankRate.com. And that’s not factoring in a sky-high 7.56% mortgage rate.

Renting a one-bedroom apartment in the city goes for $3,311, according to Apartments.com. It’s about the same nearby, too.

So offering migrants who qualify $30,000 to help with housing begs the question: Isn’t that reckless disregard for those already struggling to pay the rent or mortgage?

We think it does send the wrong message. It’s just bad policy.

Gov. Maura Healey can blame Congress for the migrant crisis until she turns blue, but a $30,000 housing perk will give Massachusetts more headaches. The right-to-shelter law already has illegal immigrants heading north east. The housing bonus will just accelerate the migration.

As we reported yesterday, HomeBASE can help with a homeless family’s first and last month’s rent, security deposit, and broker’s fee for a new apartment using that $30,000 cushion. Monthly payments can assist with rent up to two years, with the possibility of a third year of help.

Money can also head to furniture, moving expenses, and utilities based on a family’s needs. And the program also supports overdue rent or utility payments.

The program pays a landlord or vendor, like a moving company or utility company, directly instead of handing cash to the family.

The shelter system is maxed out in Massachusetts. The Biden administration is failing miserably at helping stem the tide of illegal immigration and taxpayers are going to be left to pick up the bill for years to come.

Healey’s first job must be defending the taxpayers of Massachusetts. Her ambitions, it seems, get in the way. That’s why having a Democrat, or at least a progressive one, sitting in the Corner Office is only going to end badly — for us.

Healey needs to send a message to border crossers today that Massachusetts is closed for business. We need to take care of our own citizens first.


Bangor Daily News. February 12, 2024.

Editorial: More ‘normative’ care long overdue in Maine’s juvenile detention system

For years, state corrections and child welfare officials have said they aim to close or dramatically reform Maine’s youth detention facility in favor of less restrictive, community-based care. A recent story by Bangor Daily News reporter Callie Ferguson, resulting from a year-long fellowship with The New York Times, found that this goal remains elusive.

Ferguson’s reporting highlights the difficulty and slow pace of reforms that can involve mental health, substance use, domestic violence, poverty and other large-scale social problems. That does not excuse slow progress in developing more therapeutic alternatives to the Long Creek Youth Detention Center in South Portland, particularly community-based programs that could keep juveniles closer to home and needed supporters.

While the Maine Department of Corrections, which oversees Long Creek, has spent millions of dollars on community services, much of it through non-governmental agencies, it has been unsuccessful in maintaining smaller, less restrictive alternatives to the youth detention center, which has been faulted by numerous reports and audits for harmful treatment of youths. Two small units were operational for only a short time and were closed, with officials citing staffing issues.

This doesn’t fully capture why the facilities closed, Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty told the BDN editorial board last week. While the department, like many employers, faces difficulties in hiring and retaining staff, working with youth who have complex and challenging behavioral health diagnosis adds to the challenge for staff. These challenges can be compounded when the Department of Corrections contracts with private agencies to provide the needed care and services for youths that are housed in facilities that the department does not run.

For example, the department opened a small, residential facility for girls in its care. For some time, the facility, which had limited security, housed only one or two girls, which made for an isolating experience, which may have been worse than what the girls could have experienced in the larger group setting at Long Creek, where more services were also available, Liberty said. It was also very expensive for up to nine staff members to be on site for one or two juveniles.

A low security facility for boys, called Unity Place, was run with a community partner agency. It also closed when the agency could no longer appropriately staff the facility.

Liberty said he hopes to have both facilities back open within several months, and that changes in staff training and compensation should help them be more successful this time.

Another community-based facility in central Maine did not come to fruition because of difficulty negotiating a contract that melded social service and corrections needs in one place. Community opposition was also building when the plan was dropped.

It can also be much more expensive to provide services, which include education, clinical treatment and fitness facilities, in the community rather than at Long Creek, Liberty said.

That, however, cannot mean that Long Creek continues to operate as it has, under a cloud of troubling reports and assessments.

The question, Liberty said, is “can we modify Long Creek to make it more normative, more rehabilitative?”

The answer must be yes. Long Creek must be remade to make its current configuration obsolete.

“We should be shrinking our footprint,” he said. “We want the smallest number there” so they can receive the treatment and education services they need.

To be clear progress has been made. The state went from housing more than 100 juveniles at Long Creek decades ago, to about 30 now. Fewer juveniles are being charged with crimes as well. Still, too many children are waiting too long for needed services to help them return to or stay in school and in their homes.

Maine is far from the only state facing these challenges. Vermont, for example, does not have a juvenile detention center. However, it houses some juveniles with adults in its prison system and it frequently asks Maine, and other states, to house juveniles who have been sentenced to detention. Maine does not take these kids.

When a child is sentenced to Long Creek, many other failures have already occurred. These may include failures of the state’s child protective system, schools and behavioral and health care systems, and family supports.

Of the more than 1,500 children under the supervision of the Department of Corrections last year, 111 were detained at some point. This means most of the juveniles received treatment and support in their home communities. Many of those who were detained have complex behavioral health needs. Some are violent. These young Mainers need extensive interventions that the state has struggled to consistently provide.

Ensuring these children get the care and support they need so they can end their detention and return to their communities and families is no doubt challenging, costly and involves numerous agencies. But, as Ferguson’s reporting made clear, finding new and more effective ways of supporting these children is essential, for their future and for the future of Maine.