EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 15, 2013

Editorial roundup: On IRS, EPA, e-cigarettes and listening

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Other voices, other views: Excerpts from the editorials of other New England newspapers.

The Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012 was a sleazy affair, but it was only one of many.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “was making it nearly impossible for groups critical of the agency to obtain any information,” according to a recent Weekly Standard magazine report that said 18 of 20 Freedom of Information Act requests made by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, free-market think tank, were denied while “the vast majority of requests” from environmental groups were approved.

Administration officials use personal email accounts for official business, in violation of the Federal Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

Thomas Perez, head of Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the president’s nominee for Labor secretary, also engaged in this practice. He used his personal account to coordinate a deal that led the city of St. Paul, Minn., to drop its appeal of a housing-discrimination case. Perez has ignored a House committee’s subpoena to turn over business-related emails from the account.

Since this problem is recurrent, the president’s rhetorical emphasis on ethics is a sham. With revelations of improprieties swirling, the news media and Congress should be as tough on him as possible, on the side of the people and America’s best ideals.

-- The Republican American of Waterbury (Conn.), July 12

Electronic cigarettes have the potential to improve public health if adults use them instead of regular tobacco — but not if they end up hooking young people on nicotine. Unfortunately, the ambiguous regulatory status of so-called e-cigarettes makes it possible for manufacturers to run marketing campaigns clearly aimed at young Americans. If federal regulators can’t or won’t make sure these products don’t end up creating more smokers than they cure, states like Massachusetts should.

E-cigarettes are reusable devices that deliver nicotine in vapor form, but not other carcinogens found in traditional tobacco products. Their manufacturers tout them as a tool to help smokers quit. It’s noteworthy, though, that one of the country’s three largest tobacco firms is among the leading makers of e-cigarettes, the other two tobacco giants plan to enter the market, and promotional efforts in this area have a distinctly youthful tone. Public health officials in Boston decided to treat e-cigarettes like traditional tobacco products in 2011, and the city prohibits their sale to minors and their use in workplaces. However, Boston is only one of a handful of municipalities in the state that does so, and there are no state regulations on e-cigarettes. A statewide policy is needed.

Adults should have the right to buy e-cigarettes, and people using them to quit smoking should be encouraged to do so — even if that means allowing them in workplaces. What’s crucial is making sure today’s inaction on the federal level doesn’t lead to another generation of Massachusetts residents addicted to tobacco products.

-- The Boston Globe, July 12

In an age when talk is cheap and far too plentiful, it is beyond refreshing to learn that there is an organization devoted to the almost lost art of listening.

Indeed, as The Wall Street Journal reported, the International Listening Association gathered recently in Montreal for its annual convention. This constitutes our idea of business bliss: attending a conference where people know how to shut up and listen.

One of the panel discussions had as its topic the question “What Is Listening?” The answer, according to one professor on the panel, is that listening is the act of opening oneself to being moved or changed by another person.

That is certainly one way to look at it. For our part, we’d settle for our physician looking up from her laptop occasionally while recording our evasive answers to her questions during our annual physical; for our colleagues not blatantly checking their text messages during meetings; for the dog not treating our commands as negotiating points; for the kids refraining from letting their eyes glaze over when we are relating an anecdote to make a salient point about their future conduct, even if they have heard said anecdote a couple of times before.

Most of all, though, we would like to promote sound listening habits as a way to cut down on the tide of communication, both oral and digital, that is rapidly approaching flood stage. After all, listening carefully largely precludes talking at the same time, even for adept multitaskers. And who doubts that the world would be a better place with a 30 percent reduction in chatter, including our own?

-- The Valley News of Lebanon (N.H.), July 10, 2013