- Associated Press - Saturday, May 28, 2016

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

The Providence Journal (R.I.), May 28, 2016

New rules requiring financial advisers to put their clients’ interests first should be a solid gain for consumers. While many investors might have assumed that their advisers were doing this all along, it was not necessarily so. Under the current standard, advisers only have to recommend “suitable” investments. That means they can peddle products on which they receive a high commission but that may cost the client more than something comparable or better.

The new rules, issued last month by the Labor Department, specifically take aim at retirement savings. Expected to take effect beginning next spring, they will govern the handling of 401(k) and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Importantly, rollovers will finally be covered. The new so-called fiduciary standard will not altogether bar commissions, but brokers will have to disclose their interests.

A staggering amount of money is at stake. Americans have parked more than $7 trillion in IRAs, and nearly as much in 401(k)s. That far outstrips the amount held in traditional pensions. Yet, relying on a growing body of academic research, the Obama administration estimates that savers lose $17 billion a year to conflicts of interest and excessive fees.

Not surprisingly, banks, mutual fund companies and insurers lobbied heavily against the fiduciary rule, which has been six years in the making. In response, the Labor Department made some modifications. Among them: it reduced restrictions on the types of investment products that can be sold; scrapped penalties on advisers who push their company’s own mutual funds; and exempted advisers to businesses with less than $50 million in 401(k)s.

Overall, the new rule should encourage a shift to lower-cost investments, and away from high-fee or high-risk funds. Critics complain that the new rules will be hard to comply with, especially for smaller firms. But the “suitability” rules were already complex, arguably more so.

Others warn that advisers will stop bothering with small accounts. But many large firms already snub these accounts. Some have begun providing online services to guide investors. (Fidelity recently launched such a program, charging an annual percentage fee.) These alternatives may prove just as effective, at a fraction of the cost. And in theory, certainly, they are better than dishonest advisers.

The advantages of the new fiduciary standard far outweigh any drawbacks. Most Americans have not saved enough for retirement, and need to hang onto as much of their savings as possible. As traditional pensions disappear, and workers become increasingly responsible for their own savings, the need for protections only grows.

It is no secret that Americans are heading for retirement in larger numbers than ever. The more their savings fall short, the more taxpayers will be under pressure to come to the rescue. Making the system safer benefits everyone.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1sDXsKl

The Concord Monitor (N.H.), May 27, 2016

The first New Hampshire primary was held on March 14, 1916. As explained on NHprimary100.org, the state wasn’t the “first in the nation” that inaugural year: Minnesota also held its primary on March 14, and both states were behind Indiana, which had held its election the previous week.

It wasn’t until 1952 that New Hampshire took on its true primary importance, and in that time there have been many challenges to the state’s supremacy. This summer, when Republicans and Democrats hold their conventions, we expect critics of New Hampshire’s status to roar louder than ever before. In fact, it’s already started.

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that national Republican Party leaders are working on changes to the process of choosing presidential nominees, including an end to the “cherished place” of the four early voting states - New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina. One plan Republican National Committee members have floated, the Times reported, is that the early “carve-out states” would each “be paired with a nearby state that would vote on the same day.” Under that plan, New Hampshire would still technically hold the first primary, but it would happen on the same day as Massachusetts in 2020 and Maine in 2024.

Another change under consideration by the RNC is to restrict primary voting to registered Republicans, meaning New Hampshire independents would be locked out.

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, is expected to reconsider a superdelegate system that has drawn the ire of supporters of Bernie Sanders.

While some reforms may be in order for both parties, we can say with certainty that pairing New Hampshire with a neighboring state would damage the way the nation chooses its presidential nominees.

Critics of the state’s first-in-the-nation status often point to New Hampshire’s lack of cultural diversity and how unfair it is that one small state has such an outsized role on the national political stage. Both complaints are legitimate to a point, but they ignore the real value of this long-standing political tradition.

In an age when candidates have many digital options for reaching voters, retail politics is becoming a lost art. And that’s truly a shame. Those seeking the presidency should be reminded at every turn to whom they are truly accountable. That happens more effectively here than anywhere else because voters have decades of experience vetting presidential candidates. To pair New Hampshire with another state on primary day wouldn’t just dilute an honored tradition, it would add significantly to the growing barrier between politicians and those they wish to represent.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/27WBBhG

The Republican of Springfield (Mass.), May 27, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s decision to set up a private email server - and a private email account - on which she conducted all of her official business as Secretary of State was unwise in the extreme. That, boiled down, was the finding of the State Department’s inspector general.

And now? Cue up the old recordings.

Those who love to hate the Clintons, who’ve been made crazy by both Bill and Hillary Clinton and everything about them from the time that they were first on the national stage a quarter-century ago, will once again ramp up their rhetoric. And at the same time, folks who support the Clintons will do what they’ve long been doing, talking of a vast right-wing conspiracy out to get them.

And no minds will be changed.

Hillary Clinton should not have done what she did in setting up a private email system outside of the federal government. And those who believe that she did it for convenience, so that she could carry just one device?

These are the type of people who’d respond to the claim that the word “gullible” isn’t in the dictionary by asking: “Really?”

Clinton used the system she did because she wanted control. And privacy. Ironically, those desires may have allowed her emails - and state secrets - to have been vulnerable to outsiders, including foreign hackers.

But none of this is new news. At the end of the day, the new report leaves things pretty much where they’ve been right along.

We’ve argued in this space from the first that the email setup was unwise. And unnecessary.

But now that the State Department’s watchdog has weighed in, there’s every reason to believe that the anti-Clinton forces will again ramp up their efforts to smear the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee for this, for that, for everything under the sun - and all that’s hidden, as well.

And on and on it will go. The report, of course, isn’t what Clinton needed, coming at a point when she’d hope to move past her drawn-out nominating campaign, pivoting toward the general election.

Still, it’s better now than it would be in four months or so, as Clinton and her team can brush aside upcoming criticisms as old news. Which is largely what they’ll be.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1shFzB1

The Rutland Herald (Vt.), May 25, 2016

Humorist Andy Borowitz has used President Barack Obama’s commencement address at Rutgers University as a springboard for satire.

According to Borowitz, Republican chairman Reince Priebus declared that Obama’s “pro-knowledge remarks” would come back to haunt the Democrats. Priebus, in Borowitz’s account, said, “This fall, we will ask the American people, ‘Do you want four more years of knowledge, or do you want something else?’ Because the Republican Party has something else.”

Obama’s Rutgers address described the importance of education, not just for launching a career, but also for promoting good citizenship and awareness of the world. “In politics and in life,” Obama said, “ignorance is not a virtue.”

In ordinary times it might not be controversial to praise the virtues of education and of knowledge. But these are not ordinary times.

Marco Rubio, the former presidential candidate, famously declared that the nation needed more welders and fewer philosophers. Earlier this year, Matt Bevins, the governor of Kentucky, argued that state funding for higher education should go to students of electrical engineering rather than to students of French literature. “All the people in the world that want to study French literature can do so, they are just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayer.”

It raises the question of what education is and why the public pays for it. Who needs philosophers? Why study French literature? In a pro-knowledge world, what is all that knowledge for?

Education has a utilitarian purpose, teaching us trades that will allow us to fit into the economy, hold down a job and support ourselves. Science and engineering are utilitarian also, in that they allow for the design and manufacture of useful products. Elevation of the so-called STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and math - is the latest manifestation of our love of what is useful.

But even in science, the useful depends on pursuits of knowledge that seem far from useful. Scientists seek to answer questions about the physical universe, not with an idea of how their discoveries might be used, but because pushing back the boundaries of knowledge is one of the fundamental human instincts.

It is easy for politicians to make fun of scientists who study obscure topics; John McCain once mocked the use of federal funds for studying the reproduction of grizzly bears. But scientists who go where their curiosity takes them make discoveries that change the world. The study of obscure organisms leads to discoveries about evolution itself. And eventually there is a utilitarian benefit as well - a kind of bonus - because knowledge of evolution leads to the creation of drugs that cure human diseases.

But what of all those philosophers? After Rubio’s remarks, someone showed that philosophers generally make more money than welders do, so there is an economic argument to be made. But that is not the point. If education is meant to challenge and awaken the human spirit, it must allow latitude for curiosity and creativity. If those whose minds are engaged, absorbed, inspired by the study of philosophy or French literature are thwarted, if the opportunities are not there, if faculties have been laid off, if financial aid is unavailable, education and the human spirit suffer. If we are using public funds to pay for education, we are paying for people to learn in areas about which they have unique insights and deep passion. No one can dictate what path anyone must follow. Opening up a multiplicity of paths is what colleges, universities and high schools do.

The liberal arts and the humanities show us what it is to be human. If our students’ minds are not allowed to dig deep into our history, literature, philosophy, politics, social sciences, religion, arts, we will be stumbling blindly into the future.

Many people fear that the American people are poised this year to make a giant stumbling fall into a dark place, where the only value that is venerated is the value of money, where knowledge is mocked and truculent unreason rules the day. We will one day be grateful that we have been served by a “pro-knowledge” president.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1NUpTh1

The Portland Press Herald (Maine), May 25, 2016

As an opioid addiction epidemic continues to ravage lives across Maine, it came as a rare piece of good news last month when L.D. 1547, a bill making the overdose antidote naloxone available over the pharmacy counter, survived a veto by Gov. LePage. But the cost of naloxone is soaring, and while there are short-term steps the state can take to hold down the cost of this lifesaving drug, the inexcusable price spike - as much as 17-fold for some versions - warrants federal intervention.

Legislators’ support this session for over-the-counter naloxone sales is the latest step taken to counter the surge in deadly overdoses in Maine. Laws were already in place allowing police, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs to administer the drug. It’s also legal for relatives of those at risk to get prescriptions for naloxone and give it to the person who’s overdosed.

First responders and family members, however, are running into another barrier to naloxone access: its price. As recently as the late 1990s, the cost was as little as $1 a dose for the generic version of naloxone, which was approved to reverse overdoses in 1971. But although there are now five versions of naloxone on the market, the price continues to soar.

In two years, according to Politico magazine, Kaleo Pharma’s auto-inject version of naloxone (approved specifically for people without medical training, like relatives, to give to a loved one) went from $575 to $3,750. Two vials of Hospira’s generic version, administered in hospitals, skyrocketed from $1.84 in 2006 to $31.66 by 2014.

As demand for naloxone continues to escalate, Maine should take a cue from its New England neighbor, Massachusetts, the first state to negotiate lower prices for the antidote. First responders in Massachusetts were paying $33 to $66 per dose until that state’s attorney general, Maura Healey, threatened to sue Amphastar, the only company that makes an easy-to-use form of naloxone that’s given as a nasal spray.

Last August, Healey reached a $325,000 settlement with Amphastar; combined with $150,000 from state coffers, the deal created a bulk purchase fund for naloxone. Now the antidote costs city and town emergency crews $20 per dose. Since then, five other states have reached similar deals.

Maine’s congressional delegation is also taking notice. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network this week that naloxone access is so critical that Congress should consider negotiating purchase of the drug itself. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who’s seeking an explanation of the increase in cost, noted that it will undercut the effectiveness of a recent boost in federal funding for naloxone purchases by first responders.

Expanding access to naloxone won’t do much good if those who need it - for themselves or others - can’t afford it. Our state should push the makers of naloxone for a better deal, and our U.S. representatives and senators should press for action on a national level. Mainers’ lives depend on it.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1OTwfbl

The Day (Conn.), May 23, 2016

Remember just a few weeks ago when it was the Republicans who faced a divisive national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 18-21? All sorts of plots were under discussion to prevent Donald Trump from gaining the nomination. There were predictions of multiple ballots before delegates settled on a nominee, a process so disruptive that some political prognosticators predicted it would split the Grand Old Party.

Instead Trump has dispatched all challengers with his unconventional and often non-conservative campaign. With remarkable speed, Republicans are lining up behind their presumptive nominee, national polls indicate. The Republican convention is likely to be more interesting than unruly.

It is the Democrats staring at potential chaos when they gather in Philadelphia on July 25-28. Unlike Trump, Hillary Clinton has been unable to close the deal. A detailed look at the primary map has to cause the Democrats concern. Clinton built her delegate lead largely with huge electoral wins early in the primary process in places the party is unlikely to win in the general election - across the Deep South.

Since then Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders have largely fought to a draw. The Clinton campaign wants Sanders to go away so its candidate can turn her attention to Trump.

Sanders, driven by deep-seated beliefs and leading a political movement that has generated far more excitement and shown an unprecedented ability to raise money through small donations, has no incentives to do so.

He is on a mission. Sanders sees a Democratic Party that has become too friendly with the Wall Street class on which it depends, like Republicans, for big donations. In the process, it has drifted away from its roots as the party of the working class, in the Sanders’ view.

Sanders calls for strong measures to rebalance a playing field that has favored the wealthy, while shrinking the middle class. He has energized millions of young Americans, heretofore disinterested in politics, with his calls for tuition-free public universities, a national health care system, and the breakup of the powerful major banks. And he wants a $15 minimum wage.

Sanders has problems with the Democratic Party, pointing to its use of “super delegates” - elected leaders and other party insiders - that could provide Clinton a margin of victory for the nomination that she could not secure through the primary process alone. He has a fair gripe that Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the Democratic national chairwoman, has not been a fair broker in the primary process but sought to manage it instead to favor her preferred candidate, Clinton.

So while the Clintonites want Sanders to bow out, he is fighting to capture a majority of the 475 pledged delegates at stake in California on June 7. That would give his movement greater political leverage to fight for their ideals heading into the national convention and for reforms in the primary rules. If not addressed prior to the convention, the Democratic divisions will be on display. Clinton wants a united coronation of her nomination.

Sanders also holds out slim hope of convincing super delegates he is the better option against Trump. Polls show Clinton neck-and-neck with Trump, but with Sanders comfortably ahead of Trump. Sanders has good approval numbers, opposed to the large negative views voters have of both Trump and Clinton. Then there is the FBI email scandal looming over Clinton.

This newspaper endorsed Clinton over Sanders in the April 26 Connecticut Democratic primary, a contest she narrowly won. With her experience as a senator, secretary of state and a politically active first lady, she is the best qualified candidate. Her policy proposals are nuanced - tax reform, lower interest rates on college loans, tax credits to encourage corporations to boost worker compensation, aggressive use of existing Wall Street regulatory reforms - but also more politically realistic and far less costly.

But it is her fault, not that of Sanders, that she has not secured the nomination. It is her challenge to unite the party, not his obligation. Clinton needs to find a way to inspire. First, defeat Sanders in California. Then pursue common ground - perhaps a free community college plank, a tougher approach to Wall Street regulation, and primary reforms - with the vanquished challenger and his supporters.

Trump is not qualified to be president. His combination of arrogance and policy ignorance make him dangerous. But he has proved an effective political demagogue. If Clinton cannot find a path to unite Democrats, Trump could pull this off.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/25ixRsb

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