- Associated Press - Friday, December 2, 2016

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

The Bristol Press (Conn.), Nov. 28, 2016

We are fortunate to live in an era where medical science has moved beyond leeches and quack cures to advanced science, capable of preventing or ameliorating some diseases and eliminating others altogether. As a result, we now know a lot more about controlling heart disease, for example, and smallpox has been eradicated.

But, as all of these wonders allow so many of us to live longer, older Americans are facing a new threat that our grandparents never imagined: dementia.

And even here, there’s good news, as we told you in Sunday’s Press. A study by University of Michigan researchers released last week shows the rate of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in adults aged 65 and up dropped to about 9 percent in 2012 from nearly 12 percent in 2000, continuing a decline noted in earlier research. And, while they cannot at this point tell us definitively why, they have some ideas.

First, here’s the good news: Dementia was most common among underweight adults, suggesting that late-life obesity may be healthier than being underweight. So, in the unlikely event that there’s any of that Thanksgiving dessert left in the pantry, give yourself permission to demolish it.

More important, however, is that the average education level climbed during the study. About 45 percent of older adults had at least 13 years of education - basically a high school diploma - vs. about 33 percent in 2000. And previous studies have found less dementia in highly educated people, though it isn’t known whether education somehow protects the brain from dementia or it if helps people compensate for brain changes.

Dr. David Katz, writing in The New Haven Register, has his own theory. “Much prior research suggests that the brain, like the body, is subject to the “use it or lose it” adage,” he wrote. “Education is brain exercise.”

Granted, at this point, all this is someone’s well-educated guess but, as Katz points out, it’s something that each of us can do to stay healthy. So, once you’ve finished your post-Thanksgiving snack, settle down with our newspaper’s crossword puzzle, a Wuzzle or, if you like numbers, today’s Challenge Puzzle. As for us, we’ll try to tackle the Wordgame.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2g0v4yY

The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Dec. 1, 2016

New Balance shoe workers in Maine got some good news this week. Congress will be voting on a bill that will require the Department of Defense to follow a federal law that gives preference to domestic manufacturers of apparel, including athletic shoes.

Both the defense bill and the likely defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership mean that the 900 Maine workers will get a reprieve from global economic pressure. That’s reason for optimism not only in the families of New Balance workers, but also in the places where they buy their food, clothes and gas.

It’s also good for the New Balance factories’ neighbors, who would have seen their home values plummet had there been a mass layoff in town, and it’s good for the schools their kids attend and for the local police and fire departments, which all rely on tax dollars generated by people who are working. Good-paying jobs are the glue that holds communities together.

But while this is good news for these workers and their communities, there is plenty of cause for concern elsewhere in the economy. Manufacturing, which used to be a reliable source of the kinds of jobs that the New Balance workers are holding onto, is just not doing that as much anymore.

Much of the recent presidential campaign was spent arguing over whether free-trade policies and immigration were responsible for the loss of American manufacturing jobs, and with Donald Trump’s victory, many are expecting to see more protectionist policies from Washington.

That might mean more factories will reopen in the United States, but it does not mean that the jobs that hold communities together will come back with them. Technology is as responsible as foreign trade for the loss of manufacturing jobs, and closing the border won’t change that.

It’s not true, as many claim, that America does not “make things” anymore. Manufacturing is the largest sector of our economy, and American factories produce twice as much as they did in 1984. The inflation-adjusted output from American manufacturers is greater now than at any point in our history. But they are doing it with 7 million fewer workers than they employed 35 years ago.

So the factories may come back without the jobs that disappeared.

Maine’s congressional delegation, including 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, was right to fight for the New Balance jobs, because history shows they are hard to replace.

But going forward, the challenge for policymakers will be how to foster the growth of the kinds of jobs that support families and communities in the way that manufacturing jobs did in the past. Because, regardless of American trade policies, those jobs probably won’t be seen again.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2fT6Rah

The Newburyport Daily News (Mass.), Nov. 28, 2016

When Spain’s fascist ruler Francisco Franco died in 1975, Richard Aregood, the Pulitzer Prize-winning opinion page editor of The Philadelphia Daily News, wrote an editorial headlined “Adios, Dictator.”

It read in full: “They say only the good die young. Generalissimo Francisco Franco was 82. Seems about right.”

Comandante Fidel Castro was 90.

Would that the response of world leaders to Castro’s death were as pithy and tart and honest as that editorial on Franco.

Instead, it was shockingly cloying, oozing misplaced admiration and nostalgia for the communist dictator’s reign.

Listen to our own president.

“We know that this moment fills Cubans - in Cuba and in the United States - with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation,” President Obama said in a statement.

Indeed, Castro did alter the course of lives, often ending them by way of execution for the crime of dissent. As for families, thousands and thousands of them have risked their lives on one-way boat trips across the Florida Straits since Castro seized power in 1959.

And Castro certainly altered the course of the Cuban nation, wrecking its economy and impoverishing its people for decades.

Castro also came close to altering the course of this nation, angling for nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, even if it would have destroyed his island nation.

It’s no wonder that in Miami’s Little Havana, Cuban expatriates celebrated the news of Castro’s death.

As is his habit, Obama pivoted from the subject of his statement to his own accomplishments. “During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us,” he said.

He certainly tried to do that in his statement, making absolutely no mention of the suffering and misery Castro caused over his rule of more than 50 years.

Other testimonials poured in from so-called leaders of the free world as well as from Castro’s fellow tyrants.

British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hailed Castro as “a champion of social justice.” Castro was less of a champion of actual justice, ruling by means of torture, show trials, firing squads and mass round-ups of dissidents followed by their disappearance into his gulag.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Castro a “larger than life leader … a legendary revolutionary and orator.”

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad sent condolences and said Castro was an “inspiration.” No doubt of that. The Syrian strongman’s hands are as blood-stained as Castro’s.

Irish President Michael Higgins said, “Fidel Castro will be remembered as a giant among global leaders.”

The reaction of President-elect Donald Trump was far more honest.

“Fidel Castro is dead!” he tweeted Saturday morning, with an exclamation point that seemed spontaneously celebratory.

Trump later issued an official statement that, unlike Obama’s, didn’t gloss over Castro’s evil character and deeds.

“Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,” it read. “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights … .

“Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.”

It is customary, as the old Latin saying has it, not to say anything but good about the dead. “De mortuis nil nisi bonum.”

Many world leaders seem to have observed that custom to a fault. Castro was a monster, and the truth needs to be told about him for the sake of this and future generations.

Another custom is for world leaders to attend the funeral of the head of another nation.

In the interest of honesty and our own democratic principles, we believe no representative of our government should attend any memorial for Fidel Castro.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2gIhyyh

Concord Monitor (N.H.), Dec. 2, 2016

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard was a child when the floods came. “Where the Cannonball River joins the Missouri River … there used to be a whirlpool that created large, spherical sandstone formations,” Allard wrote in Yes! Magazine on Sept. 3. “The river’s true name is Inyan Wakangapi Wakpa, River that Makes the Sacred Stones… . The stones are not created anymore, ever since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the mouth of the Cannonball River and flooded the area in the late 1950s.”

In all, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation lost nearly 56,000 acres of sacred agricultural land when the Oahe Dam was constructed near Pierre, S.D. President Kennedy, in remarks delivered at a dedication ceremony on Aug. 17, 1962, never mentioned the land that was taken from Native Americans against their will - another broken promise. He talked only of progress and of power.

Eight months ago, on April 1, Allard and a handful of others began a new fight against the latest incarnation of progress and power harnessed at the expense of Native Americans: the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Once completed, the 1,170-mile, $3.8 billion project, owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, will connect the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Montana to Patoka, Illinois. The project is nearly finished, all except for the segment that is to run beneath Lake Oahe, the product of that celebrated dam. Originally, the pipeline wasn’t supposed to travel under Lake Oahe but would have crossed the Missouri near Bismarck, North Dakota, instead. But officials who feared that the capital city’s water supply would be compromised balked. And so land where a whirlpool once created sacred stones was targeted yet again.

Thousands of “water protectors” have traveled to Allard’s Sacred Stone Camp for peaceful protests since April, and they will be joined by 2,000 military veterans on Sunday, including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat who serves as a major in the National Guard.

The resistance is not always passive.

Confrontations between protesters and law enforcement have become increasingly violent. Last month, a 21-year-old woman from New York City suffered serious injuries to her left arm, possibly from a police concussion grenade, and authorities have used rubber bullets, water cannons and dogs to control crowds.

America’s past, from the Boston Massacre to Kent State, is full of cautionary tales about how quickly protests can become tragedies. We hope those who are fighting to protect water and sacred lands, as well as those tasked with keeping the peace, know their history, because the risk of violence will only increase come Monday.

That is when an evacuation order for the Sacred Stone Camp issued by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple goes into effect. In a letter to President Obama on Wednesday, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico warned that, “forcible removal of people from federal land where they have been allowed to camp, along with food blockades, would be serious mistakes.”

He’s correct, and the president needs to take the lead on de-escalation, and he needs to do it now. While resolution of the fundamental battle between the Standing Rock protesters and the pipeline owners may be out of reach for the moment, Obama must find a way to ease tension before blood is shed.

A good place to start is acknowledgement of the U.S. government’s history of broken promises to Native Americans and the systemic marginalization of tribal people throughout this nation’s history, and that enough is enough. He could punctuate the point by mentioning that the poverty rate at Standing Rock Reservation is 43 percent, more than triple the national average.

He could say native people have been victimized too much for too long. And he would be right.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2gOqzc2

The Providence Journal (R.I.), Nov. 25, 2016

Everything is bigger in Texas, they say. While most people would associate this with Texas-style barbecue, chili, football and ten-gallon hats, how many would think of bankruptcy?

Believe it or not, Texas’s third-biggest city, Dallas - ninth-biggest in the United States - may be on the verge of collapse. Michael Rawlings, the city’s mayor, went as far as to tell the state oversight board earlier this month that it seems to be “walking into the fan blades” of bankruptcy.

How could Dallas, a low-tax business hub with the fastest economic growth of America’s 13 biggest cities, be going down the tubes?

It’s a familiar story in these parts, where Central Falls had to be turned over a receiver and Providence will face bankruptcy unless it changes its ways.

According to a Nov. 20 article by The New York Times, it’s because Dallas’s pension fund for police officers and firefighters “is near collapse and seeking an immense bailout.” Moody’s also reported that Dallas had more pension debt than any other major U.S. city (save Chicago).

Some pension fund investments were reportedly placed in risky ventures, and may have dropped in value. Meanwhile, a September recommendation was made to restrict fund members from withdrawing money from the Deferred Retirement Option Program. (Under this program, pensioners who work past retirement age earn interest if they defer their monthly checks.)

This caused an avalanche of concern. Numerous Dallas police officers and firefighters retired and pulled money out of their DROP accounts. In a recent six-week period, $220 million was withdrawn from the pension fund.

If this trend continues, there could be nothing left in short order.

The story noted that the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System asked the city for a one-time infusion of $1.1 billion. This would be “roughly equal to Dallas’s entire general fund budget but not even close to what the pension fund needs to be fully funded.”

What a terrible situation.

But, as we say, not entirely alien to those of us in Rhode Island.

Providence has unfunded liabilities for pensions and retiree health care that total more than $2 billion combined.

To cover this pension liability, the city would theoretically need to make annual contributions of tens of millions of dollars - for decades. This would mean many of our city’s basic needs, including funding schools, alleviating poverty, and maintaining other municipal services, would likely have to take a permanent back seat.

Many U.S. cities are finding that a failure to plan effectively for the future can have dire consequences. Politicians with an eye on the next election have long promised goodies to politically powerful public employees without taking the steps (bound to infuriate taxpayers) to make sure the payouts eventually occur.

With the help of a report by the National Resource Network, Providence has begun mapping out ways to dig out of the hole. That will have to include negotiations with public employees, greater payments in lieu of taxes, and more efficient operation of the city.

We’ll see what Dallas, a city whose economy seems much more vibrant, comes up with.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2h2hYmC

Bennington Banner (Vt.), Nov. 30, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump is giving daily indications that despite his rhetoric during the campaign he will try to be a good president for the very rich and not so good for the working class - and everyone else, for that matter.

During the campaign, Trump said he - unlike all the many other Republican candidates for president - would not cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He also said that while he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, he would replace it with something better. In appointing Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, as his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, the president-elect has indicated that these promises were just more hot air.

As Vermont’s own Sen. Bernie Sanders said in response, Rep. Price “has a long history of wanting to do exactly the opposite of what Trump campaigned on.”

Rep. Price, a Tea Party hardliner, is a medical doctor, an orthopedic surgeon from affluent suburban Atlanta. He has drafted his own replacement of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) which, according to the New York Times, would weaken protections for consumers. It would also eliminate billions of dollars states have been able to receive to expand Medicaid eligibility to poor people, and it would drastically cut subsidies that now help individuals and families buy coverage on government-run exchanges.

In addition, according to the New York Times, the Price Obamacare alternative “would no longer require insurers to cover addiction treatment, birth control, maternity care, prescription drugs and other essential medical services.”

As noted by The Associated Press, “Price’s selection raised questions about the incoming president’s commitment to Medicare.” Price led Republican efforts in Congress to transform Medicare into “a voucher-like system, a change that if enacted, would likely dramatically reduce government spending program that serves an estimated 57 million people.”

This would increase the costs to senior citizens. “Given that most American families have little or no retirement savings, this would be disastrous,” the New York Times notes.

How successful Trump and the GOP Congress will be in replacing Obamacare with anything satisfactory is doubtful. Additionally, whether, in the end, a president who loves to be praised will have the desire - or the votes - to gut the popular and successful Medicare program for senior citizens is unlikely.

One thing is sure, however, the selection of Rep. Price for Health and Human Services has already given the weakened Democratic opposition talking points that may resonate sooner rather than later.

“When it comes to issues like Medicare, the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood, Congressman Price and the average American couldn’t be further apart,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, the new Senate Minority Leader, from nearby New York. “It’s clear that Republicans are plotting a war on seniors next year.”

Democrats are “going to fight tooth and nail” any attempt to turn Medicare into a privatized or voucherized program, he said.

“What hypocrisy!” Sanders declared. “Mr. Trump needs to tell the American people that what he said during the campaign were just lies, or else appoint an HHS secretary who will protect these programs and do what Trump said he would do.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2gOhpfw

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