- Associated Press - Saturday, September 26, 2015

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

The Providence Journal (R.I.), Sept. 20, 2015

The refugee crisis in Europe has distressed goodhearted people everywhere. So it is positive news that President Obama has raised to 10,000 the number of Syrians who will be allowed into this country over the next year. Fleeing four years of civil war, Syrians account for roughly half the human tide now seeking asylum in Europe. With no end to the conflict in sight, their numbers are only expected to grow over the next several months.

While America - long a generous supporter of humanitarian causes - is doing more than some other countries capable of helping, the crisis cries out for an even greater effort. Some 500,000 migrants have arrived in Europe this year, overwhelming any kind of concerted effort to assess their claims and provide temporary shelter. From that perspective, 10,000 is a token number.

For obvious reasons, the United States sharply lowered the number of refugees it would admit after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Yet while those numbers have since edged higher, applicants still face exhaustive screening that can take up to two years. Thus it is highly doubtful that America will be flooded with potential terrorists from Syria, a fear some critics cite in arguing against extending a helping hand.

Arguments about which nations are most to blame for instability in the Middle East and elsewhere must not become an excuse for inaction. Even a modest effort from the United States could nudge Europe toward greater cooperation and shared solutions. Along with accepting a few more refugees, the United States should aid countries struggling to handle the influx. (Thus far, aid for Syrians who fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq has been underfunded. The need of these people, including young children, is great.)

Unfortunately, Europe’s response to the crisis has fallen apart in recent days. Negotiations overseen by the European Union stalled, as poorer countries (mostly in Eastern Europe) balked at a proposal assigning each nation a mandatory quota of refugees. In the aftermath, several nations tightened border controls, threatening the free travel that has long been a source of European pride.

It does not help that Russia, meanwhile, has deliberately increased tensions by massing military equipment in Syria. So far, it has backed President Bashar Assad, whose brutal attacks on his own people have forced millions to flee, many to nearby refugee camps. Others are now bypassing those camps, and heading straight for Europe. Punishing and destabilizing the West is obviously high on the to-do list of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The diplomatic challenges faced by Western countries are not just intricate. In the long run, they are essential to solving the refugee crisis. Those who have risked so much to reach safety have dramatized the stakes as nothing else could. Order in Europe is inseparable from peace elsewhere.




Kennebec Journal (Maine), Sept. 21, 2015

Congress won’t act without a crisis - and its members will invent one if they have to.

This month, it’s an invented crisis about abortion rights and funding for Planned Parenthood that has been trumped up by some congressional Republicans, who are hoping to use a potential shutdown of the government as leverage to force changes in federal law that they can’t achieve through the democratic process.

This is a dangerous game that puts people’s lives at risk. It’s time for responsible leadership to put an end to this kind of maneuvering. We hope Maine Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, will vote against these efforts to undermine women’s reproductive health rights and speak out against the politics of manufactured crisis.

For months, Planned Parenthood has been under relentless political attack by anti-abortion activists, who created and distributed highly edited videos that purport to prove that the organization sells fetal body parts for profit, giving it an incentive to perform more abortions. The videos show nothing of the sort.

Planned Parenthood has clinics in every state, but only two in which fetal tissue is donated to medical research. The only money that changes hands is reimbursement of costs. The only tissue available comes from abortions that would have happened anyway.

This is not a crime. It’s not even unethical medicine. And it is not representative of the work that Planned Parenthood does, supplying medical care and birth control for mostly low-income women.

This week, the Senate will vote on a federal ban on all abortions after 20 weeks. Unless you are opposed to all abortions under any circumstances regardless of the consequences, a late-term abortion ban raises complicated medical and ethical questions.

Only 1 percent of abortions take place after 21 weeks of pregnancy, and they almost always involve serious birth defects that would result in risks to the mother’s health. Those questions will not even be addressed before this vote, however, because Senate leaders have arranged to have the bill go straight to the floor without going through the committee process.

This is a strategy aimed at placating anti-abortion senators, including Texas’ Ted Cruz, who want to force the government to run out of money until funding for Planned Parenthood is stripped out of the budget. But judging from last week’s Republican presidential debate, anything short of the complete defunding of Planned Parenthood will not be enough, even if it means that the government shuts down.

These issues do not belong at the top of the nation’s agenda. The people who are trying to put them there don’t have the votes to overcome a filibuster, and even if they did, they would not have the votes necessary to override the president’s promised vetoes. The only way they can achieve their goal would be to cause so much economic pain to the nation that all their opponents just give up.

The fact that threats of government shutdown and near-default have become an annual event since the rise of the tea party Congress in 2010 does not make this kind of politics acceptable.

We hope Maine’s senators will vote against Planned Parenthood defunding and the 20-week abortion ban. And we hope they will use their influence to focus the government on real problems, not manufactured ones.




The Telegraph (N.H.), Sept. 25, 2015

Pope Francis spoke to a joint session of Congress, but he was really talking over their heads to the American people.

We hope people were listening, because the pope has something Congress lacks: credibility.

The approval rating for the pope was well north of 50 percent in some recent polls, and even higher among voters who identified themselves as Catholic; meanwhile, Congress as a whole has languished in the teens for months as the parties bicker among themselves.

That would include members like Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., a Catholic who boycotted the pope’s appearance because he didn’t like the message.

“When the pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one,” Gosar said on the website townhall.com.

Perhaps it was all that talk about family.

“I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without,” said His Holiness. “Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”

Yeah, that’s real left-wing stuff there.

More likely, Gosar knew the pontiff was going to make the outrageous suggestion that our country respond to refugees “in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”

That right there could be Congress’ motto: “We discard whatever proves troublesome.”

When, after all, was the last time Congress worked together to pass legislation that moved the human condition forward to any significant degree?

His Holiness isn’t running for office, isn’t asking for anything besides prayers and doesn’t get paid by lobbyists to espouse a particular point of view.

No wonder some politicians hate him.

Because he’s not in anyone’s pocket, he is free to warn against climate change, call for the abolition of the death penalty and warn against the type of absolutism - religious, political and otherwise - that lumps people and causes into strict categories of right and wrong.

“We must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.”

He might as well have been addressing the Republicans and Democratic parties themselves and those operatives who see political gain as its own reward.

The pope addressed a joint session of Congress, but he really spoke to working class people striving to get ahead, to seniors, and to young people swimming against an economic tide that is rigged to promote income equality.

It’s just as well. It’s not likely Congress heard him anyway.




The Day (Conn.), Sept. 25, 2015

House Republicans won’t be shutting down the government again. The last time they did so it was a failed-from-the-start attempt to block Obamacare funding. This time it would have involved a symbolic move to defund Planned Parenthood. The results would have been the same as last time; outrage from the vast majority of Americans and damage to the Republican brand.

The reason that will definitely not happen is because U.S. House Speaker John Boehner made his surprise announcement Friday that he will step down and leave Congress at the end of October.

Unburdened by any need to kowtow to fiscally conservative zealots in the Republican House caucus, the speaker can bypass their shutdown efforts and pick up as many Democratic votes as necessary to get a spending bill passed next week.

What happens next is unclear. Protocol would suggest House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is next in line for speaker, but tea party conservatives could put up a fight for a stronger fiscal conservative.

Rep. Boehner reportedly expected to face another move from the right to strip him of his leadership position. While he expected to survive, again, Rep. Boehner also knew the fight would be long and nasty.

“The speaker believes putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution,” a Boehner aide told Politico.

Rep. Boehner, 65, was first elected to the House from his Ohio district in 1990. One reason he rose through the ranks is that he knew how to put together voting blocs and make deals. When he finally landed the top position, he found himself in charge of a Republican caucus that had shifted hard to the fiscal right because of the tea party gains in the 2010 election.

Members of this House Freedom Caucus are ideologues not interested in compromising, even if it means they can’t get anything done. They view any concession to Democrats and President Obama as an apostasy, finding the speaker guilty multiple times.

One of the great disappointments is that twice in the last several years, in July 2011 and again after President Obama’s re-election in November 2012, the president and the speaker came very close to a grand compromise that could have led to genuine spending and tax reform with significant long-term budgetary benefits.

Rep. Boehner could not deliver the votes because the deal was with President Obama.

The speaker exits on a high note, having brought Pope Francis to the Capitol. Fortunately, he didn’t need any votes to do that.




Brattleboro Reformer (Vt.), Sept. 22, 2015

Scott Walker departed the Republican presidential field Monday with shots at front-runner Donald Trump, but the Wisconsin governor would have made no better a president. He earned his low poll ratings.

It is heartening to see that money alone can’t always rescue a poor candidate. Mr. Walker has aggressively courted wealthy donors like the anti-worker Koch brothers during his tenure as governor and his superPAC, called Unintimidated - which sounds like the title of a summer superhero movie - had already raised $26 million.

It is also heartening that the governor’s relentless anti-union message never caught on. The governor earned notoriety for breaking public workers unions in his state and memorably equated union members with terrorists early in his campaign. Increasingly desperate in recent weeks, Mr. Walker promised to outlaw unions for federal workers if elected president, a pledge that did nothing to advance his campaign. With middle-income Americans joining those of low-income in struggling to support their families while the rich grow richer, maybe the days of bashing workers to win votes are over.

Torn between trying to appeal to the extreme right while not alienating moderate voters he would need in a general election, If he holds any positions or principles beyond union-bashing he never managed to articulate them.

Governor Walker had trouble articulating exactly what his stance was on issues like birthright citizenship and Middle Eastern refugees. He hilariously proposed building a wall along the Canadian border, failed to explain his state’s economic woes, and denied he was a career politician even though the 47-year-old governor has held public office every year since he was 25. Like a lot of “anti-government” types, he has cashed a lot of taxpayer-funded paychecks.

Governor Walker’s departure improves the level of the Republican presidential field, but only marginally. Mr. Trump’s vulgar cynicism has rightly earned him criticism, but the difference between Mr. Trump and his rivals is less about their views than it is about Mr. Trump’s willingness to own up to them. The candidates are generally quick to criticize, belittle, fear-monger and over-simplify, but they are slow to offer a positive vision or concrete solutions to real problems. Governor Walker has company in offering nothing of value to voters.




The Republican of Springfield (Mass.), Sept. 23, 2015

When news broke late last week that VW had apparently been rigging emissions tests on some of its diesel-powered vehicles, the story was initially difficult to comprehend. The tests are the tests, right? So how would it be possible to doctor the results?

Puts those ads touting “German engineering done the Volkswagen way” in a very different light, doesn’t it?

But when one took a look past the headlines and learned some of the details, the ingenuity appeared nearly as remarkable as the audacity.

What the company did, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was to program vehicles to recognize when they were being tested, and at that moment engage the tightest built-in emissions controls. This allowed them to perform well, but dirty, when out on the road. When the cars weren’t on the test bench, it may as well have been 1955.

If the charges are shown to be accurate as described - and there’s every reason to believe they will be - the automaker has a serious, long-term problem on its hands. And it faces a giant fine. Good. Volkswagen must not be allowed off the hook for such an egregious offense.

What matters first and foremost is to ensure that the rigged vehicles are fixed. All of them. It’s then important to determine how this was allowed to happen. Did a couple of rogue engineers figure out a way to make a dirty car seem clean, or was there widespread knowledge of the deception far up the chain of command?

Another question that quickly comes to mind: Is Volkswagen the only automaker to have been cooking the emissions books, or is it merely the first to have been found out?

We live in an era when it’s common to believe that cheating matters only if you get caught. Otherwise, the wisdom of the deceitful has it, it’s all just a part of the game.

It’s anything but that, of course. When we are talking about health and safety, those who are gaming the system and rigging the test results are putting real people at risk.

The perpetrators must be held accountable, and steps must be taken to ensure that such fraudulence cannot be repeated.




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