- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2015

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

The (New London) Day (Conn.), Nov. 6, 2015

It’s both troubling and encouraging that because of melting sea ice the U.S. Coast Guard and similar entities from seven other nations have begun planning for increased human activity along the Northern Sea Route.

Mounting scientific evidence on the effects of global warming has conclusively and disturbingly established that formerly ice-choked seas are rapidly becoming open water, which means there will be more maritime traffic in areas that were previously inaccessible.

Climate-change deniers who have taken a head-in-the-sand approach to grim reality should finally acknowledge that warnings about shrinking polar ice caps are not coming just from radical environmentalists.

Last week, in a landmark ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, officials from the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the Russian Federation formally established the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, designed to help promote cooperation on such issues as environmental preservation and search-and-rescue missions.

This newspaper supports such forward-thinking initiatives and is especially pleased that the Coast Guard, which has such strong ties to the region, will play a deservedly pivotal role in safeguarding the Arctic’s future.

The Coast Guard is no stranger to the Arctic, having been assigned to patrol its waters after the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867. Over the past century and a half the service has carried out countless critical missions, including searches and rescues, along with supervising cleanups from devastating oil spills. Two months ago the Coast Guard Cutter Healy became the first U.S. surface vessel to reach the North Pole unaccompanied.

Such challenging assignments will become more prevalent as activity in the Arctic expands at a rate inversely proportional to the shrinking ice, particularly among cruise ships. One such vessel already is preparing next year to traverse the Northwest Passage, a much-storied sea route connecting the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans first navigated by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in the early 1900s and previously thought to be impassable.

The newly established forum will be charged with promoting cooperation and sharing of resources among the eight nations that border the Arctic - including some global adversaries. The United States and Russia may be at odds over conflicts in the Ukraine, Syria and other regions, but we hope the two will build on mutual interests in the Arctic just as they have formed partnerships in space missions.

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said last week he forsees cooperative agreements between the United States, which has only two active icebreakers, and Russia, which has 40, including some that are nuclear powered. It was a good sign last week that Adm. Zukunft’s Russian counterpart, Adm. Yuri Alekseyev, attended the ceremony and signed the agreement.

“Russia has the preponderance of the resources when it comes to the Arctic domain,” Zukunft said. “So it’s critical to have them at the table if we’re going to have a joint statement that really has some unity.”

An anticipated influx of maritime activity also will expose Arctic’s fragile environment to potential ecological degradation, and we encourage forum members to adopt policies that will promote preservation over commercial exploitation.

For better or worse, the forbidding, once-frozen Arctic some day may be as navigable as the Atlantic, and the Coast Guard must live up to its motto, Semper Paratus: Always ready.




The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Nov. 5, 2015

Six years ago, a proposal to compensate physicians for talking to patients about their treatment in their last days was stripped from the Affordable Care Act after critics made dark predictions about “death panels” and government rationing of care to senior citizens.

Last week, with little fanfare, the federal government announced that as of Jan. 1, it would begin paying doctors for these counseling sessions - giving millions the say in their own end-of-life treatment that they want and deserve.

Nothing is currently stopping physicians from offering end-of-life consultations, of course. Some doctors provide the service without getting paid for the counseling time, and some private insurers already reimburse for it.

But because Medicare covers 55 million people, making it the largest insurer at the end of life in the U.S., its decision to cover advance care planning is significant - and not just because private companies often follow Medicare’s lead.

The move recognizes that people need to be involved in treatment decisions before they become seriously ill or unable to make their wishes known. Patients aren’t getting the care they want, according to a landmark 2014 Institute of Medicine report, “Dying in America”: Instead of dying at home, with measures to ease pain, Americans are receiving unwanted interventions and not enough comfort care.

That said, there are also people who would want doctors to pursue more aggressive steps. And the new Medicare rule wouldn’t keep patients from expressing, in advance, their preference in favor of life-prolonging procedures.

Encouraging advance care planning discussions is also critical to getting Americans to put their end-of-life treatment preferences in written form. Only about 30 percent of us have legal documents like advance care directives or living wills - leaving relatives in the position of deciding what to do next after a parent has had a stroke or is on life-supporting machines in the hospital.

Fears that the new rule is a slippery slope toward rationed care should be allayed by the fact that advance care planning is voluntary. It’s up to each patient whether or not to have end-of-life discussions with their physician. So in a society where more of us are living longer, we should welcome physician reimbursement for advance care planning as a way to help ensure a dignified conclusion to those additional years of life.




The Lowell Sun (Mass.), Nov. 7, 2015

Perhaps this time President Obama got it right. When Russian President Vladimir Putin flexed his country’s military muscles in Syria by launching an air campaign against rebel forces a month ago, Obama said Russia would soon find itself entangled in a quagmire of its own doing.

Putin unleashed his forces in order to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose army has been unable to stave off ISIS and other militant extremist groups. Fearing a total collapse of Assad’s government, Putin apparently pounced to save what’s left of Russia’s only ally in the region.

So what’s happened? Well, Russia’s precision air campaign hasn’t been so precise.

According to the Associated Press, the monthlong Russian bombardment has killed more civilians than ISIS fighters. That information comes from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the main activist group tracking this civil war.

The Observatory said it has so far confirmed 185 civilians killed — including 46 women and 48 children — while the toll of ISIS fighters was 131.

The same group said U.S. air strikes have been far more lethal against ISIS — killing an average of 250 a month — with overall total of 225 civilian deaths.

And now, an airliner carrying predominantly Russian tourists home from an Egyptian resort apparently explodes in midair, killing all 224 on board.

After first dismissing claims by Islamic groups that the airliner was shot down, Russian investigators haven’t ruled out something beyond mechanical failure or pilot error.

Two officials on Tuesday said U.S. satellite systems detected a heat signature around the passenger jet before it crashed, and the British government has already declared that an explosive device on board brought down the airliner.

If true, that’s a high price of innocent Russian lives to pay for saving a rotting Assad regime, something that might not be well received at home.

And now we hear from a Russian foreign ministry spokesman that Assad need not be part of any post-civil war Syria, only that a functioning government must be in place so that the people could decide Assad’s fate.

Moscow has proposed hosting a round of talks between Syrian officials and opposition leaders next week.

We can only speculate on what countries would participate and what possibly could be accomplished, especially if key parties boycott the talks or aren’t invited.

It suggests that developments on the ground and in the air have pushed the Russians to reassess the military and political situation.




The Concord Monitor (N.H.), Nov. 5, 2015

The call by Republican presidential candidates that networks bow to their list of debate demands is the latest example of the GOP nominating process that has spun out of control. After enduring a CNBC forum that featured provocative, tough questions, the candidates decided that they didn’t like debates after all.

Cue a meeting of most of the campaigns’ representatives on Sunday. After talking through their beefs, a draft letter was created by attorney Ben Ginsberg and circulated on Monday.

In it, the candidates outline their demands. They don’t want to be asked yes or no questions without a chance to elaborate. They want approval over the graphics or biographies shown on the screen. And they want every candidate to be given equal time.

If that list of fantasies wasn’t enough, here are some more. The candidates want a chance for opening and closing statements. They want to ban lightning rounds. And they don’t want the temperature above 67 degrees.

Just imagine Ben Carson pulling out a thermometer onstage to make sure his microclimate is just right.

This letter - and this approach - by the campaigns is beyond insulting. While politicians might not believe it, those in the news media represent the people and take that job seriously. Debate moderators are the closest that most will ever come to directly interacting with all of the presidential candidates at once.

Do we want those moderators to aggressively question the people who might be our nation’s leaders? Or do we simply want them to enable candidates to deliver live versions of their TV commercials?

Take the question asked by CNBC’s John Harwood to Donald Trump last week: “Mr. Trump, you’ve done very well in this campaign so far by promising to build a wall and make another country pay for it, send 11 million people out of the country, cut taxes $10 trillion without increasing the deficit, and make Americans better off because your greatness would replace the stupidity and incompetence of others. Let’s be honest. Is this a comic-book version of a presidential campaign?” It’s direct, that’s for sure. But shouldn’t the grandiose, over-the-top Trump be called upon to answer just such a question?

Yes, there should be a level of decorum at these events, and CNBC’s crew was less than respectful at times. CNN’s Anderson Cooper managed the recent Democratic debate far better, while still including pointed queries.

Thankfully, as this week progressed, several Republican candidates began to back away from the letter’s list of demands. Trump said he would negotiate his own deals. The Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and John Kasich campaigns have also said they won’t sign a final draft. On Tuesday night, Jeb Bush’s campaign said it wouldn’t join the effort either.

Perhaps they came to realize what Christie did. The New Jersey governor was one of the first to criticize the letter, and if his campaign produces nothing else of note, his words to Fox’s Megyn Kelly on the subject will endure.

Why didn’t he sign the letter? she asked him.

“Because it’s stupid,” Christie said.

Amen, governor.




The Providence Journal (R.I.), Nov. 5, 2015

While John Boehner’s decision to step down as House speaker was lamented by some Democrats, many Republicans breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

Mr. Boehner’s leadership came during a difficult period, and in an age of tweets and sound bites, he seemed a poor communicator. His questionable handling of the “fiscal cliff” crisis, poor negotiating skills and frequent tears during interviews on such TV shows as “60 Minutes” did not endear him to GOP members who were elected to change the direction of Washington - and fear the wrath of voters if they do not. There were several challenges to Mr. Boehner’s leadership, and repeated calls for his resignation.

While some of the party’s most hardcore conservatives consider Paul Ryan too pliant, the new speaker strikes us as a good choice.

The 45-year-old Mr. Ryan has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1998. He was chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee from 2011 to 2015. He was Mitt Romney’s running mate during the 2012 presidential election.

Mr. Ryan has a reputation as someone willing to delve deeply into policy details and make reasonably bold proposals for reform, even at the risk of being attacked - such as in an ad that caricatured him as a man in a suit shoving an elderly woman in a wheelchair off a cliff.

On ABC’s “This Week,” the Wisconsin representative said the GOP “cannot run on vague platitudes. And that’s why I believe we, as Republicans, must offer people of this nation a better way forward and a very specific and bold agenda.”

Key issues before Congress include slowing the runaway national debt, reforming entitlement programs, enacting comprehensive immigration reform and dealing with problems in health care. At the same time, Mr. Ryan seems to grasp that Congress is supposed to reach compromises and make deals rather than slavishly serve the political base.

Mr. Ryan struck some critics as a prima donna when he insisted he would not accept the position if it entailed a heavy fundraising schedule. In modern politics, fundraising is regarded as an essential job of a nationally known politician. Yet he told “Fox News Sunday”: “I’m going to keep living in Janesville, Wis., where I’m from, where I raised my family. I’m going to keep going back and forth to D.C., and yes Sundays are going to be family days and Saturdays are family and constituent days.”

To most of us outside the Beltway, it seems an act of sanity, rather than a failing, for a leader to break free from endless fundraising and spend some time with his family and friends.

The new House speaker has apparently learned from his predecessor’s mistakes, and wants to do things differently. While every speaker should be expected to articulate and fight for his or her party’s values, Americans want their elected officials to serve the common good, not pander to campaign contributors with wall-to-wall partisan bickering. We’ll see if Mr. Ryan is any better at that than his predecessors.




The (Barre-Montpelier) Times Argus (Vt.), Nov. 7, 2015

President Barack Obama’s decision to veto construction of the Keystone XL pipeline was important for more than the pipeline itself. It signals an awakening awareness of the danger of climate change, and it demonstrates the power that determined people can exercise if they organize and focus their efforts.

Keystone was the pipeline that would have snaked from the Canadian border, across the Plains states and down to refineries in Texas. It would have carried oil from the tar sands of Alberta, which is considered to be one of the dirtiest fuels on earth.

The pipeline case demonstrates the truth of the old saying, attributed to Gandhi: “If the people lead, the leaders will follow.”

The leaders in this case included a diverse coalition in Nebraska made up of ranchers, environmentalists, Native Americans and ordinary Nebraskans who objected to the danger and destruction to the environment from heavy crude oil piped across the state. They had mounted a well-organized and determined political and legal battle to oppose it.

The leaders included, notably, Bill McKibben, author, activist and teacher at Middlebury College, who was among those who led a protest movement at the White House resulting in more than 1,000 arrests. McKibben has been tireless in calling attention to the catastrophe that awaits us if we don’t shut down the extraction of fossil fuels, in Canada and everywhere else.

Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, had not exercised significant leadership in questioning the pipeline. It was the responsibility of the secretary to rule on the pipeline because it was to have crossed an international border. Before the outcry arose, McKibben and others feared that Clinton was poised to approve the project.

As he became aware of the stakes surrounding the pipeline, Obama delayed a decision on its future. It had become a highly political issue, with Republicans and labor groups arguing that construction of the pipeline would create jobs. Republicans continue to claim that developing energy in North America is good for the nation.

But as the battle over the pipeline gained in symbolic significance, it became more difficult for Obama to approve it. The international climate change conference to be held in Paris next month will demand from all nations real, concrete commitments to cut back on carbon emissions. It would have been difficult for Obama to travel to Paris with a shred of credibility if he had paved the way for Keystone.

Climate scientists had estimated the exploitation of the tar sands oil would be “game over” for the planet. That is how massive the effects of burning it would be. Conceivably, the oil companies will find other ways to transport it, though extraction has slowed because of the low price of oil. The point is to send a message to the fossil fuel industry and to governments that the people understand that a new carbon-free economy must be the wave of the future.

Sen. Patrick Leahy issued a statement saying Keystone oil represented the past. “This inherently dirty tar sands project would be a wasteful diversion from the cleaner and more sustainable energy future and energy security that we want for ourselves and our children,” he said.

Awareness of the world we are creating for our children was reflected in a new series of studies that looked at 28 extreme weather events from 2014. Scientists who see the larger trend toward a warming climate are often unable to attribute a specific weather event to human-caused climate change. But the latest analysis found that in half the events of 2014, it is likely climate change was a cause. A significant conclusion was that a protracted drought in Syria was connected to climate change. The Syrian civil war was one consequence of that drought.

Obama, reluctant as usual to stake out an extreme position, said the importance attached to Keystone was “overinflated.” It’s true that blocking Keystone won’t save the world. But step by step, those symbolic steps are coalescing into a movement of the people that has caught the attention of their leaders.






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