, Salem, MA

December 16, 2013

A look at what others are saying

The Salem News

---- — The following are excerpts of editorials from other newspapers across New England:

Without clearly understood rules, any game runs the risk of getting out of hand. This is true in the board game Monopoly, on the football field, in the political arena.

It’s why there are rules.

The Internal Revenue Service has rules governing spending by certain tax-exempt organizations. But the regulations, to put it charitably, are not a little vague.

One example, an organization created under section 501(c(4) of the federal tax code can spend money on politicking — as long as the group doesn’t exist “primarily” to influence elections. This obviously leaves not a little wiggle room. Depends, as some might say, on what your definition of “primarily” is.

The IRS has been taking steps to make the rules clear — to all players.

This only makes sense. And as long as the government is careful not to single out organizations with certain political leanings, as long as the IRS acts as an equal-opportunity pain in the neck, scrutinizing the activities of groups on the left and on the right, as long as it plays by its own rules, the game will be fair.

This was why it was so disturbing earlier this year to have found that the tax-collecting arm of the federal government had been targeting groups whose political leanings were not exactly aligned with the views of the current occupant of the White House.

Organizations on the right, those hewing to tea party thinking or to some ideology that might identify them as conservative, were singled out for review. Or had their applications bottled up.

This was a serious problem that must not be repeated. The citizens, no matter their political leanings, have got to believe that federal authorities are playing fair, are treating everyone the same, are reading from only one rule book.

— The Republican of Springfield

A man got tired and four people died.

That, at least, appears to be what happened on Dec. 1 when a Metro-North commuter train derailed as it took a curve at 82 mph, spilling onto the banks of the Harlem River near the Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx, N.Y.

The train’s engineer, William Rockefeller, met with National Transportation Safety Board investigators and detectives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City police for several hours. A union official has leaked that Rockefeller “basically nodded” while guiding the Hudson line train carrying about 150 people. This is certainly a long way from the final word on this investigation, but we don’t need a team of detectives to recognize a major flaw in the existing system.

Rockefeller came out of his daze in time to hit the brakes a few seconds before the accident. Perhaps even that last-minute act saved a few lives.

But what if an engineer suffers a fatal heart attack in similar circumstances? Would every life on that train be in jeopardy?

Any driver who has traveled a lot of miles likely identifies with the “highway hypnosis” phrase used to describe Rockefeller’s state. It’s a terrifying condition, and this should be a cautionary tale to anyone who resists pulling over when getting weary behind a wheel.

But an engineer responsible for dozens of souls has an even higher moral and professional responsibility to remain sharp. And the railroad has a duty to ensure its engineers are in proper condition for the job. Rockefeller reportedly switched from a night shift to a day shift in recent weeks, which is not an easy adjustment.

Perhaps engineers need to be held to new standards before starting the job each day. This may be an inconvenience to the many, but so is removing shoes every time we board a plane.

It’s also inexcusable that this train lacked the alert system that sounds alarms if inactivity by the engineer is detected. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy pledged Tuesday to expedite installing the positive train control system on the New Haven line that guards against collisions and derailments. Some railroad officials dispute the effectiveness of the technology on busy commuter lines such as ours.

Maybe that’s true. But there must be technology that can be developed that prevents a train from turning a corner at three times the recommended speed.

— The Connecticut Post of Bridgeport