July 21, 2013

Letters to the editor: Engineer fall guy in train tragedy

The monstrous tragedy at Lac-Megantic provides great sorrow for the present and, hopefully, lessons for the future.

Lise Doyon, Jeannot Labrecque
click image to enlarge

Lise Doyon and a friend, Jeannot Labrecque, place a picture of her son Kevin Roy, a victim of the derailed oil train explosion, at the Ste-Agnes church in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 13. The people who decided that the train could be operated with a one-person crew played a major role in the disaster, which killed 50 people, a reader says.

2013 File Photo/The Associated Press

All through the early coverage, day after day, the words filled the written pages and online screens. Are the fires out yet? How many dead?

Routinely, without elaboration, the stories noted the engineer was the sole crew of this parade of black, round cylinders. When he left to sleep, no one was there. No brakeman. No backup engineer. Not even a security guard.

Finally, on July 14 ("For rail company, rebirth may yield to ruin"), almost as an afterthought in lengthy coverage, railroad litigation expert Richard Beall is quoted: "There used to be five-person crews. If you whittle that down to two people or one person, what's going to happen?" We now know the answer to that question.

So when is "cost-cutting" criminal? It's forever the "little guy" to blame -- the engineer or the fire crew this time. When is cost-cutting "negligence"?

Maybe the so-called "liberal" media should stop and examine their point of view. No more free passes for the suits and ties in the corporate boardrooms.

Who went to jail for the Deepwater Horizon disaster? Who went to jail for the Big Branch Mine murders? And who wrote about that aspect of American jurisprudence?

Let's see what happens in Canada. The media obligation is to report it all in detail.

Stephen Aucoin


Cutler's economic platform must move into this century

As Eliot Cutler prepares to enter the gubernatorial race, Mainers should examine his proposals on the economy. Cutler would have Maine build on its natural resources, specifically tourism, lobstering and paper production.

But reliance on natural resources is the mark of a colonial economy, which historically has always been trumped by an industrial economy, and nowadays is far inferior to a "knowledge" economy. Cutler's experience in China should have told him that.

Take lobstering. The current abundance of lobster (unexplained) can vanish overnight. Paper production is already on the decline, with several mills recently closed. Tourism is vital for Maine's economy but shows no signs of dramatic increase.

What should be done? Maine needs to move into a modern-day knowledge economy. It already has a foothold in biological research in Jackson and Bigelow labs. We should build on this.

Maine should attempt to attract high-tech jobs. This means providing support at the university level, including advanced research initiatives, industry collaborations and encouragement of startups.

High school graduates should be encouraged to enter colleges and major in technical areas. This requires strengthening the public school system (which Cutler does advocate).

Also, as anyone visiting Silicon Valley can see, much of the energy in high-tech comes from new immigrants. They should be made to feel welcome in Maine and enticed by Maine's natural beauty and quality of life.

Maine needs to aspire to a lead role in the 21st-century economy, not a subservient one supplying natural resources to dynamic but resource-poor nations in Asia.

Michael Werner


Ruling in war crimes case should cause judge's ouster

I am deeply disturbed and angry over the disclosure in David Rohde's column July 14 ("A ruling redefines war crimes") that as president of the United Nations war crimes tribunal, Judge Theodor Meron, 83, overturned the just conviction of three senior military, Croatian and Serbian, on the charge of aiding and abetting war crimes, of which evidence proved them guilty.

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