- Associated Press - Saturday, March 19, 2016

Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers:

The Kennebec Journal (Maine), March 17, 2016

The Lifeline program was established in 1985 under the premise that telephone service is integral to American life, and that it shouldn’t be denied to very low-income Americans.

Now that everything available by phone - and so much more that isn’t - is now accessible by computer, it makes sense for the federal government to expand the program to include subsidies for broadband Internet access.

But while the new proposal from the Federal Communications Commission is welcome news, it would do relatively little to remove the significant barriers to Internet access. To make sure that students from poor families do not continue to fall behind, more has to be done.

Overall, nearly 75 percent of U.S. households have some sort of Internet connection. But that number changes greatly when considering household income.

While nearly 95 percent of households with $150,000 or more in annual income have home Internet access, less than 50 percent of households with less than $25,000 in income do.

In fact, low-income households with children are four times more likely to lack a high-speed Internet connection than middle- or high-income families, a divide that gets deeper for poor black and Hispanic households.

When more and more school work requires tools and resources only available online, that’s a problem. For many low-income students, finishing daily assignments means piggybacking on the school’s Internet connection even at night, using the free Wi-Fi available at fast-food restaurants and public libraries, or not completing it at all.

That’s a disservice to students who are supposed to be preparing for a high-tech, global economy, and who are already facing a tougher road than their more well-off peers.

In recognition of this growing “digital divide,” the FCC released its plan March 8 and will vote on it soon. If approved, it would allow for the Lifeline program’s $9.25-per-month subsidy to be used to purchase fixed, wired broadband Internet as well as mobile data plans.

Considering the cost of an Internet plan is four or five times that amount, and devices more expensive, the subsidy is not a lot of help to a family already spending most of its income just on food, housing and transportation.

The FCC likely knows this, but is unable to seek a higher benefit. Conservatives have derided the Lifeline program since the poorly handled inclusion of mobile phones beginning in 2008, when it became the subject of significant abuse.

The new proposal addresses that criticism by establishing a third-party vetting procedure for eligibility as well as a database of users so that only qualified households are given the subsidy, and that each eligible household only gets one subsidy.

That will make the program more efficient, but not necessarily more effective. The modest subsidy will be a relief for some families struggling to pay for an Internet connection, but many more will remain without one, giving rise to more inequality in an economy already defined by it.

The answer may not be a higher subsidy, but the problem certainly needs more attention. The cost of providing a child with the skills necessary to find a place in the modern workforce is increasing, and for the sake of their lives and the health of the U.S. economy, we’ve got to keep up.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1Wy6ZvR

The Gloucester Times (Mass.), March 15, 2016

This week, the Los Angeles Times offered a sobering observation that will sadden the heart of even the most grizzled and hardened rock and roll fan - the great era of “arena rock” is dying.

Dying, in large part because its founding bands are entering their twilight years, and in some cases - such as David Bowie - they are no longer with us. Dying because the industry itself is losing its financial footing. And dying because, as some critics believe, rock n’ roll itself is a dying phenomenon.

While there is a fresher crop of rock and roll bands making the concert rounds, their appeal has been eclipsed primarily by pop acts. They simply don’t draw the crowds that created the “arena rock” phenomenon.

It’s a big change for a generation of fans who cut their rock n’ roll teeth on massive stadium events, venues that featured such legendary bands as The Who, Rolling Stones, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, The Eagles, and so many more. Many of those legendary acts still perform, though the audience is greyer and the bounce in the step is greatly diminished. The number of rock bands performing in these venues is declining.

Indeed, the Los Angeles Times noted that Springsteen last night began a three-night, sold-out event at the venerable LA Memorial Sports Arena, the 33rd time he’s performed concerts there in his storied career. After the concerts are over, the stadium will be torn down to make way for a new soccer stadium.

Shutting down stadiums is something Springsteen, 66, is used to. He was the last rock act to perform in the Meadowlands in his native New Jersey, and even penned a song to commemorate the moment, “Wrecking Ball.” He’ll likely perform it again at the Memorial Sports Arena.

It’s symptomatic of a trend that many music critics have observed over the past 10 or more years - the old business model that laid the foundation for the big rock and roll acts is crumbling. Record sales have slumped as the physical medium of CDs and phonograph records has given way to cheaper forms of distributing music, primarily downloads. It’s a medium that may give music fans exactly what they are looking for - for example, a single song they like - but it dismantles the old rock n’ roller’s habit of listening to an entire album, over and over. It has lessened the dimensions of rock music considerably.

The financial problems have also changed the dynamics between musicians and recording companies. It took Springsteen eight years and five albums to finally get a top 10 hit. That kind of patience doesn’t exist anymore.

Beyond that, some critics argue that the cultural energy that fueled the rock n’ roll phenomenon has dimmed to a mere shadow of its former self. Perhaps it is no longer even relevant. Like 8-track tapes, its heyday is over, a historical blip.

“Rock and roll as a counter cultural force is over,” wrote London Telegraph music critic Andrew Woods in a recent essay. “Where it once articulated the anger and confusion of the youth, they now turn to online forums and Snapchat. Or maybe they’re just happy. A terrifying thought.”

The legendary rock acts continue to ply their trade. Recently, The Who - or at least the two surviving members - performed before a packed house at Boston Garden. The performance won rave reviews, but at least one attendee we talked to took note of the near absence of young faces in the crowd.

Back in their heyday, The Who seemed to anticipate this very moment. Their 1972 hit “Long Live Rock” prophetically proclaims, “Landslide, rocks are falling, Falling down ‘round our very heads, We tried but you were yawning, Look again, rock is dead.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1UqxiGf

The (Waterbury) Republican-American (Conn.), March 19, 2016

Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, is amply interested in uncovering the truth behind the Obama Internal Revenue Service’ harassment of conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012. It initiated freedom-of-information litigation shortly after the May 2013 disclosure of the harassment. The litigation resulted in the release of documents that demonstrate the harassment was systemic, contrary to President Obama’s claims. Shamefully, most news organizations declined to cover these developments.

Judicial Watch is not slowing down. It is trying to get the full story of how the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) investigated “IRSgate.” We wish the group luck.

In a piece published by the Breitbart News Network March 7, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton disclosed that his group has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to overturn a U.S. District Court’s ruling that DOJ does not have to release records of how much time it spent investigating the IRS chicanery. Judicial Watch filed a freedom-of-information lawsuit, in 2014, to force DOJ to make these records public.

Fitton included an excerpt of Judicial Watch’s brief to the Court of Appeals. In it, attorneys wrote, “Because the requested records were created in the ordinary course of business - to assist senior officials in their management responsibilities - the records do not fall within the scope of the attorney work product doctrine.” This doctrine shields material attorneys produce in anticipation of litigation.

Hopefully, Judicial Watch will succeed at the Court of Appeals. From the outset, it was clear DOJ was not interested in conducting a serious investigation of the IRS’ doings, despite Obama’s claim that he had “no patience” for malfeasance at the tax agency. Former Attorney General Eric H. Holder, who was no champion for the rule of law during his 2009-15 tenure, appointed Barbara Kay Bosserman, an attorney in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, to lead the investigation. As we noted in a Jan. 17, 2014 editorial, the investigation should have been handled by the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Unit.

Interestingly, Bosserman donated a total of $6,000 to Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.

The American people deserve to know why DOJ didn’t make an earnest effort to find out what happened at the IRS and seek justice. As we and others have noted, American democracy cannot exist under a partisan and/or ideological tax agency. The actions of the IRS and DOJ set terrible precedents that should frighten Americans of all political stripes. We commend Fitton and Judicial Watch, and hope they continue their work for years to come.

This saga is among the strongest indicators that Obama failed to keep his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/25bdWsr

The Concord Monitor (N.H.), March 15, 2016

The first games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament have yet to be played, but there are already winners and losers. No, we aren’t referring to what teams are in and what teams are out, or even how Kentucky ended up with the lowly No. 4 seed after winning the SEC tournament. We are talking about fortunes won and lost.

Among the winners are the 14 cities that will host tournament games this year. They can each expect to see an estimated economic impact of up to $8 million, a windfall fueled by spending on hotels and in restaurants. The NCAA itself is of course a big winner, with the tournament bringing in about $900 million each year, most of which comes from its $10.8 billion, 14-year TV deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting. When you consider that ad revenue generated by the 67-game slate is approaching $1.25 billion, it’s clear that the deal, which expires in 2024, makes the two media giants among the biggest winners of March Madness.

But where there are winners, you are sure to find losers. According to one study last year, business owners can expect to take a collective hit of about $1.9 billion in lost productivity as employees fill out brackets and track results during the work day. And the American Gaming Association estimates that $9.2 billion in bets will be placed on tournament games this year, which means the number of gambling losers will keep on growing right up until the championship game in Houston on April 4.

What about those who hope to fill out the perfect bracket, thus gaining fame and possibly fortune? Duke math professor Jonathan Mattingly puts the odds of accomplishing the feat at 1 in 2.4 trillion. Just by filling out a bracket, you join a long list of imperfect losers.

But the biggest losers of March Madness are the players, the same losers as last year and all the years since the tournament started making big money for colleges and TV networks.

In 2014, the Washington Post put the annual average “worth” of an NCAA basketball player to his school at just over $210,000. That same year, the Atlantic estimated the average value received by a scholar-athlete at about $125,250, which factors in scholarships, health care, coaching and media exposure. That value gap of about $85,000 grows significantly when considering elite players in elite programs.

Neil Greenberg, writing in the Post, used the example of former Kentucky star Julius Randle during the 2013-2014 season. That year, Randle contributed 5.9 wins to the team, a statistic known as “win shares,” with each win worth about $260,000 to the university (based on the revenue generated by the school’s basketball team). That means Randle’s win shares put his value to the university at more than $1.5 million for the season.

Concord’s Luke Bonner, a former Division I college basketball player at West Virginia and UMass, sees the tournament through a different lens than the typical fan. For several years, Bonner has been fighting to empower overworked and under-compensated college players and make them aware of their own power. His crusade is driven more by a sense of basic fairness than a desire to see college athletes strike it rich.

In a thoughtful and illuminating article for Vice Sports in January headlined “What I paid to be a college athlete,” Bonner had this message for college athletes like those who will thrill the nation during the NCAA tournament: “You are the key individuals driving this multibillion-dollar industry, its labor and its product. You deserve a say, a real say, in the policies that stand to affect your lives the most. You deserve to have your best interests represented.”

It’s a sensible message amid all the madness.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1nXj0yW

The Providence Journal (R.I.), March 19, 2016

Angela Merkel has been the chancellor of Germany for more than a decade. She’s been praised internationally for her political acumen, keen interest in foreign affairs, and leadership role during the global economic crisis.

But in her own country, voters are expressing deep concerns about Merkel’s reaction to the European refugee crisis, and her open-door immigration policy.

Last August, Merkel said there should be “no tolerance of those who are not ready to help, where, for legal and humanitarian reasons, help is due.” It was an honorable position, a welcome voice of concern for desperate fellow human beings, but it did nothing to ease German fears about the assimilation (or lack thereof) of refugees and immigrants.

Merkel’s role in a hastily arranged European Union-Turkey migration deal didn’t help, either.

In the proposed arrangement, Turkey would reclaim migrants arriving in Greece. Turkey would also receive billions of euros and a long-desired push toward E.U. membership. One Syrian would have been resettled in Europe for every Syrian taken back.

Many E.U. countries are concerned about this deal. Some accused Merkel of arranging it “(b)ehind the backs of some her closest European allies,” according to the Financial Times on March 8. The deal may not come to pass.

This month’s German state elections were therefore viewed as a mini-referendum on her leadership. They turned out to a major repudiation.

In Baden-Wurttemberg, her political party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), lost 18 seats in its former stronghold and finished second to the Greens. In Rhineland-Palatinate, where the party once had a healthy lead, the Christian Democrats finished second to the Social Democrats. And in Saxony-Anhalt, the CDU remained in first place despite losing 11 seats.

Alarmingly, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a virulently anti-immigrant party formed in 2013, was the main beneficiary of the CDU’s collapse. The AfD finished second in Saxony-Anhalt, third in the other states, and won a cumulative total of 62 seats.

Merkel has been sent a clear message by voters. She must balance compassion about immigration with concerns about assimilation. If not, the “Iron Lady” of Germany could be made of lead before long.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1XCw9tg

The Brattleboro Reformer (Vt.), March 17, 2016

President Obama has done his job in nominating a respected, experienced centrist judge as the nation’s 113th Supreme Court justice. Now it is up to Senate Republicans to do their job and give him a hearing.

In nominating Merrick B. Garland, a well-known appeals court judge who is highly respected in Washington, the president has put the pressure squarely on the Republicans, who immediately politicized the death of Justice Antonin Scalia by declaring that they would not conduct hearings on the president’s nominee, let alone take a vote. This would put them in clear violation of their responsibilities as outlined in the Constitution, a document Republicans claim to cherish except for when they find it inconvenient.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got it right Wednesday when he said “Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.” The people used their voices when they twice elected Barack Obama as president, giving him the constitutional power to nominate a Supreme Court justice when a vacancy emerged. What he meant, of course, is that Republicans should stall in the hope that Donald Trump will get to choose the next Supreme Court nominee.

Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican and Trump supporter, surprised only with his honesty last week when he acknowledged that “If a conservative president replaces a conservative justice, there’s a little more accommodation to it.” The GOP’s goal of spiting President Obama is obvious, and the endless well of partisanship and hypocrisy Washington Republicans can draw upon has long been obvious to all. If Republicans refuse to do their constitutional duty regarding Judge Garland, Democrats should not be reluctant to use their refusal as a cudgel this election season.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1nXgCrU

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