- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

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

The Boston Globe (Mass.), Oct. 6, 2015

Less than a decade ago, a concerted effort to reduce carbon emissions seemed to be a bipartisan goal. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 nominee, proposed a carbon emissions cap-and-trade plan to that end. Cap-and-trade, after all, was an idea with sterling Republican credentials; President George H.W. Bush had used it effectively to deal with acid rain. And, seeing its success, Democrats had adopted it as something they too could support.

But once Obama was elected, Republicans began rejecting efforts to curb carbon emissions. One of their arguments was that it made little sense for the United States to restrain its carbon emissions, given that China and India had made no commitment to curb theirs.

Faced with Republican congressional recalcitrance, Obama was forced to come up with an executive-branch regulatory plan. The one he has announced would not specifically establish a cap-and-trade plan, but would leave that as an option for the states.

And now, with a US commitment, and persistent diplomatic leadership, China and India have both announced carbon-curbing plans of their own. Ironically enough, China, once a centrally planned economy, will establish the world’s biggest cap-and-trade system to implement its reduction plan.

China’s plan is widely viewed as bolder and stronger than that offered by India; unlike other major polluting nations, India hasn’t committed to an absolute decrease in carbon emissions, but rather to slowing the increase in those emissions.

Yet that’s a start, and one that could well lead to more extensive and accelerated efforts. Further, with both China and India now aboard the effort to fight climate change, all the world’s major economies are committed to the carbon-curbing cause. These efforts alone will not be enough. Rather, they should be seen as platforms on which to build. Certainly they set the stage for productive talks when world leaders convene in Paris in December for the next climate-change conference.

None of this would have happened without President Obama’s efforts. The president deserves real credit for his determination to push world climate-change efforts ahead, despite myopic GOP opposition at home.




The Stamford Advocate (Conn.), Oct. 3, 2015

Truer words have not been spoken than what President Barack Obama said Thursday afternoon following yet another explosion of gun violence, this time in a community college classroom in rural Oregon:

“As I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough.”

Every time a heavily armed madman unleashes a fusillade we express outrage and sorrow. And the president’s right. It is not enough.

Unfortunately, here in Connecticut, we know the experience intimately. The grim wraith of Sandy Hook Elementary School still hangs over the state.

This time the blood was shed at a small college in Oregon. The gunman killed nine people and wounded nine. He was killed, too, and at press time it was unclear if he was shot by police or committed suicide.

The numbers in these incidents all vary slightly. We are in danger of becoming inured to them because, as the president noted, these vicious outbursts occur every few months.

They - and our horrified reaction to them - have become, as the president said, “routine.”

“And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.”

Authorities have connected 13 weapons to the person who did the shooting. Six were found at the scene.

Opponents of reasonable steps to control guns raise a legitimate point when they say that mental illness is always a factor in these horrific events.

But as the president noted last week, we are not the only country on the planet that has to deal with mentally ill people.

“We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston. It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.”

It is inarguable that access to guns in this country is an equal factor in the toxic equation that leads to these slaughters.

Wailing and mourning in the aftermath of these tragedies is not enough.

Unless we are willing to accept that these periodic slaughters are simply part of life in America, we need to put every elected official to the test of whether they will support reasonable gun control laws, starting with universal background checks for any person who wants to buy a gun.

“If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views.

“And I would particularly ask America’s gun owners - who are using those guns properly, safely, to hunt, for sport, for protecting their families - to think about whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you.”

What we as a country have done on this issue simply is not enough.




The Portsmouth Herald (N.H.), Oct. 6, 2015

Local fishermen say the looming cost of paying $700 per day, for at-sea monitors, could put them out of business by the end of the year.

It’s a threat that everyone should take seriously.

“The day I really have to pay for this is the day I stop going fishing,” says David Goethel, a commercial fisherman from Hampton.

Stringent federal catch limits have already crippled the 400-year-old fishing industry in New Hampshire to the point where there are now only nine active groundfishing boat operators.

This additional expense, to make sure fishermen are following regulations put forward by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), could be the final nail in the coffin.

That’s why we were pleased that last week NOAA delayed the downshifting of the costs to fishermen until Dec. 1. We urge NOAA and our congressional leaders to do what they can to ensure that the delay is permanent because it’s the right thing to do.

NOAA has been footing the bill for the at-sea monitoring program for several years, and rightly so as it’s the federal agency’s responsibility to ensure that annual catch limits are not exceeded.

At-sea monitors keep track of how vessels are meeting their groundfishing allocations set by NOAA to keep groundfish stocks like cod, haddock and flounder from being destroyed.

NOAA’s current rules state that at-sea monitoring costs were to be instituted in 2012. However, they have delayed implementation because of the “continuing economic problems” in the industry, according to Teri Frady, spokesperson for NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

While the fishing industry is still in crisis, NOAA is now claiming it can’t afford to foot the bill for the monitors.

We find it hard, however, to believe that an agency with a billion dollar budget can’t afford it.

The real people who can’t afford it are the fishermen, who are already struggling to stay afloat due to the heavy regulations.

The cost for at-sea monitors will likely be near $700 per day for each vessel, a figure based on what NOAA paid in fiscal year 2015.

In an email to congressional staff, NOAA regulators admit the change would be “economically challenging” for many.

Studies by NOAA show that as many as 60 percent of affected boats could be pushed out of profitability if they have to pay those fees.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte was right to question whether this decision to downshift costs violates the law.

By law, according to the National Standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, NOAA is directed to sustain both fish stocks and fishing communities.

Forcing fishermen to pay for at-sea monitors may support sustainable fisheries but it will kill the local groundfishing industry.

Hampton fishermen David Goethel notes that other industries do not pay for their monitoring.

“The airlines do not pay for the TSA, agribusiness does not pay for meat inspection, and pharmaceutical companies do not pay for the FDA, to name a few,” Goethel said. “These are considered functions of government and so is catch monitoring.”

The bottom-line is NOAA needs to continue to pay these costs.

NOAA is the agency that developed these regulations and NOAA is the one that should pay to ensure they are being followed.

We support our local fishermen and urge our congressional delegation to protect this profession that has influenced our region’s identity for centuries.




The Providence Journal (R.I.), Oct. 10, 2015

It’s often been said that you can’t stop the march of progress in the modern world. This is especially true when it comes to free markets, globalization and trade liberalization.

Earlier this week, 12 nations - including the United States - approved a new draft trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The idea behind the process, U.S. officials say, is to enhance trade and investment, promote innovation and economic growth, and support the creation and retention of jobs. This will be accomplished, in theory, by removing restrictive trade barriers such as tariffs - including more than 18,000 taxes that affect products made in our country.

On the White House website, it’s noted that “the President’s trade policy is the best tool we have to ensure that our workers, our businesses, and our values are shaping globalization and the 21st century economy, rather than getting left behind.”

More to the point, this agreement can help the United States “rewrite the rules of trade to benefit America’s middle class. Because if we don’t, competitors who don’t share our values, like China, will step in to fill that void.”

When all is said and done, the TPP will one day be the largest trading bloc in the world. It will be a huge step forward in relaxing international trade restrictions, increasing global competition, and opening up the lucrative Asian markets to even more individuals and companies.

We’re not quite there yet, however.

The TPP still has to be ratified by each country. This process could take another year or two, and governments could start grumbling over certain details.

Not surprisingly, some politicians, trade unions, health professionals and other special interest groups are railing against it. They’re furious that it was negotiated behind closed doors, hasn’t been made public (it will be shortly), could increase income inequality, could affect the environment, and so on.

It is beyond dispute that economic upheaval, while increasing the wealth of the world, has made life much harder for some, notably those American workers who cannot compete with cheap, unskilled foreign labor. What often gets overlooked is that, even if we wanted to, we could not realistically hold back the tide of modernity, given improving communications, burgeoning economies and bigger and better means of transporting goods. We are much better off negotiating a deal that will better protect American innovation and trying to create a more level playing field.

Then again, there will always be people who are unhappy with new trade deals like the TPP - and economic expansion in general. But it is inevitable that the rest of us will just keep marching on.




The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus (Vt.), Oct. 9, 2015

The failure of House Republicans to govern themselves is emblematic of their failure to govern the nation.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was the leading candidate to succeed John Boehner as speaker of the House, but at the last minute Thursday he bowed out of the race. Only two arch-conservative House members with marginal support remained on the ballot, so Republicans had to postpone the election of their new leader.

McCarthy must have concluded, as Boehner had before him, that governing the House while a faction of Tea Party conservatives was intent on burning the place down would be an impossible task.

The problem is that a group of about 40 members associated with the Tea Party movement has refused to allow the normal processes of governance to proceed, instead employing techniques of legislative blackmail to try to get their way.

The Republican leadership has hobbled itself by adhering to the so-called Hastert Rule, which holds that the speaker will not allow a bill to advance unless it has support, not just from a majority of House members but from a majority of Republicans.

Thus, if the Tea Party members withdraw their support from a Republican initiative, then the Republicans, lacking Democratic support, would lack a majority within the House as a whole. If a small faction of moderate Republicans tries to fashion a compromise with Democrats, their bill, lacking support from a majority of Republicans, would not be brought forward by the speaker. The Hastert Rule is an informal standard voluntarily followed since the speakership of former Speaker Dennis Hastert.

All of this is a recipe for disaster, as Boehner and now McCarthy have perceived. When the small faction of Tea Party conservatives threatened government shutdown to extort the deletion of funding for Planned Parenthood, Boehner saw that his party was heading toward another self-destructive meltdown. His resignation, which was to be effective at the end of this month, allowed for a temporary resolution, but it appears that McCarthy’s speakership was threatened by the same mathematics. The no votes of conservatives, combined with the no votes of Democrats, would have prevented McCarthy from winning a majority.

The result of this intransigence among Republicans has been the failure of government. Congress is no longer capable of carrying out its ordinary duties, such as writing budgets. Instead, it passes makeshift temporary solutions that last a few months, meaning the budget process lacks careful thought or planning. It has failed in taking up other important measures, such as reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.

This is not how democracies are supposed to work. In past eras, governing parties have relied on coalitions including factions from the other party to form majorities. Democrats could not have passed civil rights legislation without the help of moderate Republicans; that’s because the Democrats had their own version of the Tea Party - the segregationist members from the South. Similarly, President Ronald Reagan and congressional Republicans reached out to Blue Dog Democrats in fashioning their majorities.

For one sliver of the political community to assume it has a mission to force its agenda on everyone else is a destructive, messianic form of arrogance. It is embodied by politicians such as Sen. Ted Cruz, who is widely loathed by his own colleagues. Even a proven conservative like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has accepted the reality that he must govern in a way that does not halt the processes of government, but he, like Boehner and McCarthy, is up against it.

Boehner and McCarthy have now called the bluff of the Tea Party. It is as if they are saying: “Do you have a better idea? Do you have a candidate who you believe can govern?”

Maybe the new speaker will abandon the Hastert Rule and join forces with moderate Democrats in a new alliance that shakes the Republican Party free of the grip of the blackmailers who believe that imposing their will is the only way to be true to their principles.

Democracy is a process that requires members to play well with others. That is a rule that we usually learn in 5th grade. It appears the Republicans in Congress are having to learn it all over again.




The Kennebec Journal (Maine), Oct. 6, 2015

There is a growing stack of brain scans that shows what concussions and collisions can do to the cognitive function of professional football players.

But the harmful effects of repeated brain trauma are hardly reserved for the NFL, or even football in general.

Concussions are an overlooked problem for high school athletes, and while football leads the way, soccer, lacrosse and hockey also pose a danger, and girls are particularly at risk.

The danger is not risky enough to keep kids from playing sports, but it is imperative everyone involved knows how to spot the symptoms of a concussion, and that player safety and well-being are the foremost concerns in youth and high school sports.

The numbers on concussions vary. One study puts the prevalence for high school football players at 11.2 per 10,000 “athletic exposures,” or the number of practice and games in which an athlete participates, and at 6.7 per 10,000 exposures for girls soccer. Another puts the rates at 6.4 and 4.5, respectively.

But because parents and coaches can miss the symptoms, and student-athletes often don’t want to pull themselves out of games or practice, concussions are underreported.

With so many students taking part in athletics - more than 375,000 nationwide in high school girls soccer alone - that leaves a lot of teenagers open to long-term damage.

That’s because concussions are traumatic brain injuries that require a slow recovery, with lots of rest and little physical or mental stress.

However, since so many go undiagnosed or unreported, and because there is often pressure to return to action, student-athletes can cut that recovery short, leaving them more susceptible to another concussion, and further damage on their still-growing brain.

Just how bad that damage can be is still largely unknown. There has not been much research on the long-term consequences of concussions on youth athletes, nor has there been sufficient nationwide tracking of concussions and the circumstances in which they occur.

Both would help improve diagnosis and recovery plans, and determine if actions like mandatory protective equipment or rule changes would help deter concussions.

But no further study is needed to know that student-athletes suspected of having a concussion should not play until they are cleared by a doctor, and those found to have suffered a concussion should not return to practice and games until all symptoms have cleared and they have a physician’s OK.

A Maine law passed in 2012 codified that policy for all high schools, an important step for raising awareness and changing a sports culture that sometimes makes returning from injury an issue of toughness, rather than health, particularly with an injury like a concussion, which can have no outward signs.

But tools used to immediately assess whether a player has suffered a concussion are imperfect, and athletic trainers who know what to look for can’t be at every game and practice.

That makes it necessary that coaches and athletic administrators foster an atmosphere in which players feel comfortable reporting a concussion.

And it leaves it up to coaches, officials and parents to make sure players are watched closely after a collision on the field, and not only in football.




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