- Associated Press - Saturday, June 13, 2015

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

The Salem News (Mass.), June 11, 2015

Free trade agreements are generally beneficial to the American economy, and we have supported such agreements in the past.

While it is true that some American jobs are lost- particularly in older industries where lower labor costs offer an advantage to developing countries -innovative, leading American companies and their workers win whenever trade barriers against their products are removed.

A bill before the U.S. House of Representatives would grant “fast-track” authority to the Obama administration to negotiate a massive, 12-nation trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The bill on Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA for short, if passed would mean Congress would only be able to vote yes or no on the Trans-Pacific Partnership once it is finalized. No amendments or filibustering would be permitted.

Such fast-track authority on trade agreements is nothing new. But, in the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it is an abomination, a perversion of the democratic process that the House ought to reject.

How do we know this bill is so bad? We know because of what we know about the details of the draft version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership- which is just about nothing. We and the rest of the American public are not allowed to know what’s in this deal. It’s secret. It’s so secret in fact that members of Congress can only look at the document in special rooms in the Capitol, and only after agreeing not to divulge what they’ve read.

Members of Congress are supposed to be the people’s representatives in our government. But how can the people advise their representatives on how to vote on this trade authority while the details of the agreement are kept secret from them?

There are plenty of troubling rumors about the trade deal, such as a provision that would allow corporations to bypass national laws with an appeal to an extra-judicial tribunal of arbitrators. But unless the actual bill is available for review, how can anyone be certain?

The Trade Promotion Authority bill has produced some unholy alliances in Washington, with Republicans and President Obama pushing hard for its passage while most Democrats and their activist allies are vehemently opposed. Last month in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., engineered passage of the TPA. Now, the House leadership under Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is trying to line up members for a vote as early as Friday.

It’s not often we find ourselves on the same side of a political debate as Sen. Elizabeth Warren. But the Democratic opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership has less to do with the secrecy surrounding the agreement than it does with their knee-jerk opposition to free trade and their lockstep devotion to their trade union overlords. But Republicans, having been burned so badly by vote-first, read-later passage of Obamacare, ought to know better. Years later and we’re still just discovering the fine print of that misbegotten legislation.

If the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership were laid out for all to see, we would probably find more to like than dislike in it. But when Congress says, “Trust us,” the sensible response is to put one hand on one’s wallet, back away slowly and reply politely, “No thanks!”

We expect Republicans in Congress to support free trade. But we do not expect the GOP to support secrecy and hiding details of important legislation from the American public.

If the Trans-Pacific Partnership is important for America’s future, the American public ought to have a chance to see what’s in it.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1Qr1yzC

Hartford Courant (Conn.), June 11, 2015

OK, turnabout is fair play. Earlier this year Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was quick to jab Indiana Gov. Mike Pence over the Hoosier State’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Mr. Malloy and others denounced as discriminatory against gays and lesbians. On Wednesday, the shoe flipped to the other foot. Indiana ran a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal offering “our support” to General Electric, Aetna and Travelers, the three large Connecticut-based companies that expressed deep concern over corporate income tax increases in the newly adopted state budget. GE is exploring a possible move out of the state. “Friends don’t let friends pay high taxes,” says the not terribly original ad copy, which was paid for by the state of Indiana, “a state that works,” per its slogan.

Would that this were mere needling, like those stupid bets that public officials make on college basketball and football championships. But it isn’t. Indiana Secretary of Commerce Victor Smith told the Inside INdiana Business website that the ad was part of an effort to market the state’s business climate in a “timely and fun” way. In other words, they’re trying to poach the Connecticut companies.

And they are pretty good at it. For the past two years Indiana has used targeted ads to zero in on businesses in Illinois, another state that raised taxes to help close budget deficits. Following the “Illinoyed” and “Stillinnoyed” campaigns, nearly 50 Illinois companies announced plans to move all or part of their operations to Indiana, with commitments for more than 4,800 jobs, the website reports. That’s not a huge number, given the size of Illinois, but big enough to demand Connecticut’s attention.

It’s a shame that beggaring thy neighbor is considered good public policy. It usually isn’t. Whether on the local or state level, it often wastes money and reshuffles the deck chairs, without actually building the economy. But it is the world in which Connecticut must compete.

Fortunately for the home team, taxes often are not the principal reason a company relocates. Companies must consider such things as access to materials and markets, access to talent, lifestyle, opportunities for growth and cost of real estate. Connecticut can compete in most of those categories, though high property taxes are a real problem.

At the same time taxes cannot be onerous, or a drag on core businesses. For example, Aetna officials complained about the increase in the sales tax on computer and data processing services. In a state so heavily reliant on information technology, they have a point. Mr. Malloy would be wise to meet with business leaders about the budget, as they have requested. Let’s hope it’s a two-way conversation; they may have some ideas.

And if we are to compete with Indiana, why not see what they are doing well?

For example, Mr. Malloy’s brief boycott of Indiana came just before the men’s NCAA Final Four basketball tournament in Indianapolis. The women’s Final Four will be there next year. Did anyone think to ask why Indianapolis gets so many Final Fours, “Monday Night Football” games and other major sporting events including a Super Bowl and Pan Am Games? (Quick answer: The folks there really work at it.)

And if costs are lower in the Hoosier State, is there anything to learn in that area? For example, Indianapolis has a regional government- the city under Republican Mayor Richard Lugar merged with surrounding Marion County in 1970, forming what was called Unigov. While Connecticut isn’t likely to move toward city-county mergers, are there aspects of Unigov that might streamline government operations here?

If we have to compete with Indiana, at least take away the home field advantage.

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Online:

https://cour.at/1FOYxig

Bennington Banner (Vt.), June 8, 2015

If you suspect that you may not have enough money to retire, a new study says you’re right on the money (pun intended). Rather, about half of you are.

The Government Accountability Study, which was prepared at the request of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., found that many workers who are approaching retirement have limited savings. The study’s findings, released on June 2, concluded that 52 percent- or more than half -of households where residents are 55 and older have no retirement savings at all.

Those in the 55-64 age group who do have some retirement savings have a median amount of $104,000 socked away, which would equate to a $320 per month protected annuity. Households with residents who are 65-74 have an average savings of $148,000, or $649 per month.

Forty percent of retirees worry about “not having enough income to get by,” according to the study. We’d wager a higher percentage of people younger than 55 worry about what they’ll live on next week, let alone in retirement.

According to the Levy Economics Institute, wage growth has slowed and become highly unequal over the last few decades, with the labor share of national income declining by about 10 percent since 1980. Meanwhile, those who own capital have increased their share of income by more than a third.

Once Americans are older than 65, about half get most of their income from Social Security. The amount of income received is based on the average wages earned over a worker’s lifetime, with a maximum amount of $102,000 as of 2008.

The average benefit to Social Security recipients is just under $16,000 per year, however.

Which is where Sanders came in.

He supports an expansion of Social Security benefits. In March Sanders proposed the Social Security Expansion Act, designed to make the wealthiest Americans pay a fair share of their income into the federal program.

Under current law, the amount of income subject to the payroll tax is capped at $118,500. That means someone making millions pays the same amount in payroll taxes as some making $118,500 a year. Only 6 percent of Americans earn more than that cap amount.

The proposed legislation would subject all income over $250,000 to the payroll tax, which would impact only the top 1.5 percent of wage earners, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research.

“This report makes it clear that there is a retirement crisis in America today. At a time when half of all older workers have no retirement savings, we need to expand, not cut, Social Security benefits so that every American can retire with dignity,” Sanders said in a press release.

The Social Security Expansion Act he’s proposing is designed to make the wealthiest Americans pay the same share of what they earn into the program as do others. This tweak of the current program would extend its life through 2065 while also allowing Social Security benefits to increase, on average, by $65 per month.

Social Security payroll taxes are not due on earnings above the Social Security tax cap.

Sanders says it will raise the minimum benefit enough to bring millions of senior citizens out of poverty.

Something has to give, at least for those of us retiring well into the future, and this idea Sanders has proposed makes sense.

“Social Security is the most successful program in our nation’s history. At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we have got to demand that the richest people in this country pay their fair share,” he said.

Begun in 1935 as a program of social insurance and benefits, Social Security’s benefits include retirement and disability income, Medicare and Medicaid and death and survivorship benefits. The federal program currently has a $2.8 trillion surplus, which will enable the program to pay all promised benefits until 2033, after which it will be able to pay around 75 percent of all promised benefits.

Sanders’ proposed Social Security Expansion Act would extend the solvency of Social Security for the next 45 years, through 2060.

If you’re not planning to retire sooner than 2033, it may behoove you to support Sen. Sanders’ proposed legislation.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1BbtzV0

The Nashua Telegraph (N.H), June 9, 2015

The fine print on the back of tickets to sporting events contains a disclaimer that says a team and its players are not to blame for accidents that befall fans at the game. Moreover, the disclaimer says, it is the responsibility of fans to remain alert at all times.

It is certainly that, but baseball itself shares some of the responsibility for the accident that happened at Fenway Park in Boston last Friday night.

In case you hadn’t heard, it happened in the second inning, when a fan sitting in the second row of seats was struck in the head by a piece of the bat that broke off in the hands of Oakland A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie.

The scene was horrific. As blood poured forth from her wound, a fan took off his shirt to try and stop the bleeding. Medical personnel responded immediately and she was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Thankfully, she is expected to survive.

It could have happened at any park where fans are seated closer to the action on the field than some of the players. Demand for such seats are so high that the Red Sox added two extra rows down front some years back. Those are premium seats, but they are dangerous seats, too, as Friday’s incident demonstrated.

There have been incidents at Fenway before, but not like this.

The closest parallel, perhaps, came in 1958 when Ted Williams flipped his bat toward the dugout in a fit of pique after being called out strikes. The bat flew into the stands and struck 60-year-old Gladys Heffernan in the head. Mrs. Heffernan, who was the housekeeper for Sox General Manager Joe Cronin, was hospitalized but recovered.

In 1982, a 4-year-old New Hampshire fan, Jonathan Keane, was struck in the head by a scorching foul ball. Nobody who was watching will ever forget the sight of Red Sox slugger Jim Rice taking the boy in his arms and carrying him into the Red Sox clubhouse so the child could get medical attention. He also survived.

Fortunately, such incidents are rare, and nothing like what happened Friday night had taken place at a Major League Baseball game before- at least not in recent memory.

But it was bound to happen because of fundamental changes that have taken place in the game over the past 20 years. Moreover, the powers-that-be in MLB knew they had a problem. (Full disclosure: The family that owns The Telegraph also owns the Pittsburgh Pirates MLB franchise.)

For more than a hundred years, bats were made of white ash, a hardwood that remained largely intact when it broke, thanks largely to its straight grain. It was uncommon for pointed pieces of a bat to go flying around the ballpark when ash was the wood of choice.

In recent years, however, more batters have switched to maple, which is more likely than ash to shatter into multiple pieces. Maple bats may be harder, but when they break, “maple bats were three times more likely than ash bats to break into two or more pieces,” according to a 2008 MLB study.

Baseball took steps to address the maple issue and officials say incidents of bat breakage are down by almost half from less than 10 years ago, but the problem of shattered maple flying through the air persists, as we saw on Friday night.

Yes, baseball fans need to be alert. But so do the people who run baseball. They need to consider, for instance, extending the protective netting in ballparks from dugout to dugout.

There is precedent for that: The death of a young fan who was struck and killed by a puck spurred the National Hockey League to require that teams install netting at either end of the rink at the start of the 2002-03 season.

It would be reasonable for baseball to do the same.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1MP9a9P

The Republican of Springfield (Mass.), June 12, 2015

With reports that violent crime in New York City has once again been on the rise, you’d think that the powers that be would be focused on assaults. Instead, they are worried about salt.

Really.

Mayor Bill de Blasio wants New York’s chain restaurants with more than 15 establishments to put an image of a salt shaker beside menu items that contain more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium. There are lots of troubles with this plan. To name but a few:

It is based on still-evolving science, seeking to place an absolute limit on something that will very likely change down the road. It forces restaurants to spend additional money- and time -on a regulation that may well be of little value. It adds a new, needless level of bureaucracy into what is supposed to be an enjoyable experience.

You don’t have to be an anti-government, libertarian-leaning fanatic to believe that our nation long ago passed into a realm of regulatory ridiculousness in some arenas. De Blasio’s predecessor in the mayor’s office, Michael Bloomberg, famously (and foolishly) went to war against the sale of super-sized sodas. That ill-fated move, thankfully, was ultimately turned back. We can only hope that the same happens to de Blasio’s big salt-shakeup.

The facts on salt are that the facts are evolving. Too much, of course, is bad. But so too, apparently, is too little. And how much, exactly, is too much is still being debated by members of the scientific community.

But the facts don’t stop some from assuming extreme positions. There are already those who are comparing genuine questions about salt with the cigarette companies’ longstanding efforts to fight smoking restrictions. The analogy is fallacious in the extreme. You don’t need to have graduated from medical school to see clearly that such hyperbole is both needless and counterproductive. Here’s the simple truth: Some salt is fine. The only debate is about how much is OK. But there is no acceptable level of smoking. Period. Talking about the two in the same breath is just blowing smoke in an effort to cloud the issue and end the discussion.

Such statements are best taken with more than a grain of salt.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1L35oZ4

The Providence Journal (R.I.), June 9, 2015

Our country has witnessed some horrifying terrorist attacks on home soil, including 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing. Yet, there are still Americans who believe the threat of terrorism is far more of an international than domestic issue.

Recent incidents involving ISIS may put that theory to rest.

On June 2, Boston police and a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent shot 26-year-old Usaamah Rahim in the Roslindale neighborhood. He was reportedly carrying a military-style knife, and went after a police officer.

Why would an FBI agent be involved in a police matter? Mr. Rahim was apparently under surveillance by the FBI and a Joint Terrorism Task Force. Boston police and the FBI had followed him for several days before confronting him. Authorities also blocked off part of a second neighborhood, Everett, in the operation.

It didn’t stop there, however. The situation took a detour that hit very close to home.

A house on Aspinet Drive in Warwick came under investigation. Authorities were evidently interested in the activities of an unnamed young man in his 20s.

A former friend told a reporter, “He basically grew up with me for years. He’s a family friend with my mom and my dad” and was “a good kid.” However, “he kind of changed a little bit” and “started dressing in all of these robes, getting on his knees doing all this worship stuff.”

On the Sunday before the June 2 incident, authorities allege, three men had met on a beach around the corner from the man’s home, “in inclement weather,” to discuss a beheading plot, according to media reporters.

It remains to be seen exactly what was going on. But three things seem clear.

First, ISIS supporters are here in America.

Second, all states, including Rhode Island, cannot be deemed 100 percent safe from terror attacks.

Third, Americans must continue to be involved in stopping the spread of terrorism. In the wake of ISIS’s successes in a Mideast power vacuum, the group’s footprint is spreading. There is an effort under way by ISIS enthusiasts to attack such basic civil liberties in the United States as freedom of speech and to kill Americans as a means to send a message. Our nation must resist- better yet, prevent -these assaults.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1C37fYV


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