- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

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

The Providence Journal (R.I.), Sept. 12, 2015

Under the Iran Nuclear Review Act, Congress has 60 days to either approve or disapprove of the agreement. Under the Constitution, the Senate must approve all treaties by a two-thirds vote. And while the Iran deal is not technically a treaty (though perhaps it should be considered as such), it is entirely appropriate - and surely what the Founders intended — that the Congress have a say on major international accords such as the Iran deal.

But there is something backwards in the way the law is set up. Rather than demand that two-thirds of the Congress approve the deal, the bill simply requires a majority vote of either approval or disapproval. That means that, because President Obama can successfully veto a motion of disapproval so long as a third of the Senate votes to sustain the veto, it now takes two-thirds of senators to stop, rather than approve, the deal.

That’s a neat trick, and one seemingly designed to avoid accountability on the part of the executive branch. Because of this setup, the agreement looks likely to go through, as slightly more than a third of the Senate has indicated that it supports it. Got that? Because at least one-third of the Senate supports the deal, it will go through. So much for majority rule.

But wait: it gets worse. The Democrats in the Senate actually moved last week to filibuster the motion, not allowing a motion of disapproval at all. This shameful approach locks the Senate out of having any say on the accord, and simply allows the executive branch to ram through a deeply unpopular deal. So much for accountability.

On Friday, the House did vote overwhelmingly to reject the accord, 269 to 162, to little effect, given the Senate’s plans.

About that unpopularity: Though all four members of the Rhode Island delegation support the Iran deal, a new Pew poll finds that only 21 percent of Americans do, while 49 percent oppose it. (The rest have no opinion.) But, in truth, the public has an even more negative view than that. When only those who have heard about the Iran deal are polled, a whopping 57 percent oppose it.

It’s no wonder that some of the deal’s supporters are eager to avoid a public vote.




Portland Press Herald (Maine), Sept. 16, 2015

A 19-year-old woman experiencing a mental health crisis recently spent 10 days in a Lewiston emergency room awaiting treatment. Though a place was finally found for her, dozens of other people who have similar issues are still waiting for services that they’re not getting - a complex challenge that won’t be resolved until Maine enables residents to seek preventive care regardless of their income.

Police brought Chyann Cahill-Hassett to the St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center ER on Sept. 1 after she had a breakdown, lashed out at a residential treatment provider and then ran away, her mother, Maureen Cahill, of Northwood, New Hampshire, told The Associated Press.

While Cahill searched across five states for treatment options, her daughter, who is cognitively disabled, slept on chairs and shared common space with others in crisis, like a drunken man whose pants were falling down and tried to sit on the teenager’s lap. It took until Sept. 11 for a spot to open up on the psychiatric floor of St. Mary’s.

Similar scenarios play out every day, in Maine and across the country, driven by a surge in demand and shortages of staff, beds and treatment facilities. St. Mary’s, for example, opened an ER in 2010 just for people who have mental illnesses. It now sees over 400 patients a month, the Sun Journal of Lewiston recently reported - a jump of 78 percent in five years.

Though Maine has over 500 beds for mental health patients, some are set aside for specific groups, like senior citizens or children, and others are unavailable because there’s no staff to cover them. Meanwhile, ER patients can’t move to inpatient psychiatric units because the people there are waiting for beds to open up at backlogged long-term facilities.

Recognizing and screening people for mental illness ensures they get treatment before they need inpatient or long-term care. But Maine has missed a key opportunity to intervene, repeatedly rejecting federal Medicaid expansion funds and leaving 70,000 residents without any mental health coverage at all.

Poverty is endemic in Maine, and more than a third of adults here who receive Medicaid have a diagnosable mental health condition. But opting out of Medicaid expansion will limit the ability of community mental health centers to reach community members with mental illnesses before their condition deteriorates, a recent study predicts.

The gap between the need for psychiatric care in Maine and the services available here will continue to grow - and so will the crowds in the emergency rooms of hospitals around the state.




The Portsmouth Herald (N.H.), Sept. 16, 2015

Bullying among our youth has become a hot button topic the last few years as well-publicized incidents, especially of cyberbullying, resulting in trauma and even suicides by victims have made headlines.

A new study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire provides interesting insight into this nasty phenomenon - and lots of hope.

Turns out the common perception of a bullied child cowering alone in a school hall, or suffering online taunts day after day without hope of relief is relatively rare.

And, support from peers and adults during and even after an incident can do a lot of good.

The study of 791 youths looked at all types of bullying cases. It found that bystanders were present in 80 percent of situations, and in 70 percent of incidents these people tried to make the victim feel better. This is a positive revelation.

More than half of these bystanders comforted the victims or confronted the harassers, or both.

Negative behavior by bystanders was far less common, with those joining in against the victim 24 percent of the time or laughing at him or her 23 percent of the time.

Not surprisingly, the study found that negative behavior by bystanders has a significant harmful impact on the victim. And bystanders who help the victim can have a positive impact, but more study is needed to determine the best ways to do that.

One of the most important points is we need to expand our definition of bystanders.

These are not just the kids or adults who witness the bullying. They include friends, peers and adults the victim may talk to later about it. Victims reported positive benefits from having these secondary bystanders take action, even after the incident.

In other words, don’t neglect to take action because you weren’t there. Comfort the victim, tell someone in authority, be proactive. It helps.

“Someone who hears about the victimization … is an important “secondary” bystander, with the opportunity to support the victim emotionally and prevent further harassment or bullying,” said the study.

All this has implications for society, especially in our schools.

Bullying has gotten serious attention in the educational community and this research shows just how important it is to keep that up. We need to reinforce with our kids that it is not OK to stand by while someone else is bullied. They need to intervene and tell an adult.

In 60 percent of incidents where a youth told an adult about the incident, more than half of victims felt adults made the situation better. This is contrary to the reasons most victims did not tell an adult: fear their involvement would worsen the situation. False fears it turns out.

“Those who hear about the harassment experience … play an important role in prevention and support,” said the study.

Researchers indicated they felt prevention programs to improve the “response skills” of other youths to bullying incidents could be particularly helpful. Friends are the primary confidants for victims, but victims may confide in anyone they know. If more kids are taught how to respond when bullying occurs, they can have a real impact.

There are good lessons here for educators and parents.

And we all should feel good that most kids and adults who witness bullying try to do the right thing. This is an awful topic, but there is hope amid the tears.




Hartford Courant (Conn.), Sept. 15, 2015

Americans are wakening to the need to offer what Chris Murphy, Connecticut’s junior U.S. senator, calls “a more robust humanitarian response” to the plight of Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland.

Better late than never.

This country, which has a history of generosity, is nevertheless something of a piker when it comes to the uprooted Syrians, having taken in only 1,500 of them since the Syrian civil war began four years ago.

Germany, by comparison, with about a quarter of the population of the United States, will resettle about 800,000 refugees, mostly Syrian, by the end of next year.

Last week, President Obama said the U.S. will offer access to at least 10,000 Syrians in 2016 if they can pass a strict vetting process. That’s a good start, but still falls short of a fair share for a country of 330 million people.

Murphy, the highest-ranking Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s panel with jurisdiction over Middle East affairs, returned a few days ago from a trip to that unstable region, including a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan that the senator described as a “hellhole.”

It has no sewer system and only sporadic electricity. “Families are packed like sardines … and have given up hope,” he said, adding, “They shake their heads and wonder what the United States is doing.”

Murphy says the United States should accept at least 50,000 Syrian refugees. That’s more like it. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, to his credit, said some would be welcome in Connecticut.

There appears to be bipartisan support. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said the U.S. “should take our fair share. We are good people. I don’t think the average American has any idea what it’s like to live in the Mideast right now.”

The United States should do its fair share. It won’t solve the refugee problem. But it would take some of the pressure off Syria’s neighbors - such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey - that are inundated with about 1.5 million homeless Syrians.

The U.S. should also continue its generous provision of dollars for humanitarian assistance for the Syrian refugees - more than any other nation.

Most important, the U.S. should press harder for a political settlement of the Syrian civil war.




The Rutland Herald (Vt.), Sept. 12, 2015

“Political correctness” is a term used as a shield to protect language that others find to be offensive. But what does it mean to violate the standards of political correctness?

There are many examples. When Donald Trump denounces Mexican immigrants, accusing them of being criminals and rapists, he is not being politically correct. When he calls women slobs or rates them on a 1-to-10 scale, he is not being politically correct. When Sarah Palin likens black activists to dogs, she is far beyond the bounds of the correct.

These comments and others like them inevitably provoke cries of racism or sexism. They should. In fact, the current election campaign counts as one of the most overtly racist and sexist in many years, thanks mainly to Trump, who glories in violating standards of correctness. He tries to get away with it by turning the criticism back on itself, claiming his critics are forcing him toward their standards of political correctness.

Well, yes. Racism should be denounced. The day it is not denounced is the day when America has slid into a deep slumber of apathy and cynicism. Voters should demand of their candidates that they show respect toward fellow candidates and toward voters. And yet Trump has fashioned his whole persona around his bullying image and his willingness to berate and denounce others as “stupid” or worse. It is only a matter of time before someone calls Trump on his belligerence and voters ask themselves whether a leader so consumed by his own ego can possibly serve the people.

There is a deep well of hatred in our country, and there always has been. It tends to be associated with racism, and it doesn’t go away. In the early 20th century, it was socially permissible to hang black people from trees and for the town to turn out as if to a picnic. In the mid-20th century, it was permissible to murder civil rights workers, black and white.

Eventually, we crawled out of that swamp, and these things were not permissible, and the attitudes that gave rise to murder and other forms of terrorism were seen broadly as racist. But those attitudes did not go away. The pool of hatred might have shrunk, but it is still there.

Over the decades, resentment has percolated among the haters about society’s implicit condemnation of their views. Meanwhile, they have found validation in the coded language of radio and TV personalities and in clever politicians who speak the language of Jim Crow without giving themselves away. Out at the margins, there have been divisive figures - Palin is an example - giving voice to those percolating resentments, shielding themselves with charges of “political correctness,” but gradually moving the margin toward the middle. Now Trump seeks to legitimize racism and sexism that is more overt than any other candidate could possibly get away with.

Those who have been yearning for someone to give voice to their nasty prejudices, against Latinos or against women, will be gratified by the ascendancy of Trump, but ultimately, the great mass of American voters will be repelled. The presidency is a reality show that takes place in the real world. Over time a steady diet of hostility and ego will be hard for most Americans to take.

Some of the Republican candidates may be looking for their Joseph Welch moment. Welch was a lawyer representing the U.S. Army in 1954 in hearings called by Sen. Joseph McCarthy to look into McCarthy’s specious charges of a communist conspiracy. Finally pushed too far, Welch responded to McCarthy by saying, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness … Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

These lines ruined McCarthy’s career. The American people’s sense of decency is still there, looking for a voice.




The Republican of Springfield (Mass.), Sept. 17, 2015

To be successful, a presidential candidate must play the long game. It’s a marathon, the cliche has it, not a sprint.

The statement, of course, applies to the campaign, but it also could refer to Wednesday night’s GOP presidential debate.

It was far too long. It was too often shabbily run, with efforts to get the candidates to engage with one another having perhaps made more sense on the drawing board than it did in practice. What the move produced was a decent amount of heat, but very little light.

To call what took place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library a “debate” is to stretch the definition of the word beyond all real meaning. Still, a few things did stand out.

Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO, showed why she shouldn’t have been relegated to the “kids table” debate last time around - and why she belonged in Wednesday’s prime time event. She was substantive and knowledgeable throughout the three-hour telecast.

Others, not so much. Billionaire reality TV star Donald Trump again showed his superficial stripes at his too-frequent turns, but he was never more ridiculous than when asserting - all evidence to the contrary - that there’s some link between vaccines and autism. Though he is plainly and demonstrably wrong, the two doctors on stage - retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul - sadly missed a golden opportunity to denounce his dangerous demagoguery.

Throughout the evening, others had their moments that shone through the clutter. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was once again on top of his game, often seeming like the smartest and most well-prepared kid in class. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, too, stepped up during some responses. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who appeared for much of the evening to be phoning in his performance, eventually hit his stride.

It’s important to remember that one of the 11 who were assembled at the Reagan library in Simi Valley, California, could be elected president in 14 months. The tenor of Wednesday’s gussied-up street fight, at times annoying and at turns entertaining, must not obscure that fact.

In the months ahead, as the marathon continues and the field begins mercifully to narrow, one can only hope that there’ll be more substance and less foolishness.




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