- Associated Press - Saturday, February 27, 2016

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

The (New London) Day (Conn.), Feb. 25, 2016

Now there is another reason to detest Pfizer Inc.’s decision to renounce its U.S. corporate citizenship to avoid U.S. taxes. As reported recently by Day Staff Writer Lee Howard, due to Pfizer’s tax-avoiding merger those who have held on most loyally to Pfizer stock - many of them former employees - are about to get hit with huge tax bills.

Of course, loyalty has not played any role in this business move.

Starting in a factory in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1849, Pfizer Inc. built its pharmaceutical global empire in the United States, thanks to American labor, markets and ingenuity. Last November, however, Pfizer opted for maximizing profit over practicing patriotism, announcing a $160 billion merger with the Irish-based Allergan, which built its own success on that vital product Botox.

Oh, technically, the much smaller Allergan is buying Pfizer. The headquarters of the new merged company will be in Dublin, Ireland. Corporate lawyers, to slash Pfizer’s corporate tax rate to the 17 percent charged in Ireland, carefully orchestrated the merger details. The U.S. corporate tax rate is 35 percent, though using various tax breaks Pfizer has paid an effective rate of 25 percent or less.

But this “inversion” will force stockholders to exchange the company’s American-based stock for that of the new Irish-based drug firm, Pfizer plc. Investors in high tax brackets will have to pay a 20 percent federal capital-gains tax. When you add in the stock’s appreciation, the hit could be 30 percent or more.

Most vulnerable are former employees who decades ago took advantage of lucrative stock options to buy stocks for just a few dollars a share, then loyally hung onto their Pfizer shares when they tanked, dipping under $10 per share in 2009. The stock is now trading in the range of $30. The big appreciation will mean big taxes.

Why are so many corporations - more than 80 and counting - bailing on America? They say the corporate tax rate of 35 percent in the United States is excessive. In truth, few corporations pay that much. And the U.S. corporate tax rate helps pay for necessary infrastructure, for a regulatory system to protect fair commerce, and for the world’s largest military to allow unfettered global trade.

Dropping the rate would only set off a rate war with other nations dropping their rates to try to placate corporate greed.

The better step is that proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; stop inversions by making it illegal for corporations to buy smaller foreign businesses for the purpose of moving their tax domicile and dodging U.S. taxes.

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The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Feb. 21, 2016

To understand what’s going on in Washington right now, you have to remember the wisdom of Rufus T. Miles.

Miles, a career bureaucrat from 1941 to 1966, is best known for an observation that explains the way people in government adopt policy ideas that are dictated by their positions in the power structure.

Known as Miles’ Law, it simply states, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

The sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and the desperate scramble to name his successor has been the ultimate test of Miles’ Law.

Regardless of what you think about Scalia’s views on constitutional interpretation, he was a giant - a leading figure in a 30-year reaction to the liberal jurisprudence of the 1960s and 1970s. He was one of a five-member conservative bloc on the current court, and his passing has the potential to signal another dramatic turn in its political orientation.

With so much at stake, competing forces wasted no time looking for ways to influence the choice. The most offensive power grab came from Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, who put out a statement less than an hour after Scalia’s death had been officially announced, declaring that the vacancy on the court should not be filled by a nominee of the president, as required by the Constitution, but that the seat should go empty until 2017.

He was quickly joined by other Republican senators, including New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte, who issued a statement that went even further, saying, “I believe the Senate should not move forward with the confirmation process until the American people have spoken by electing a new president.”

It’s a shameful rewriting of the Constitution and traditions of American governance by partisans hoping that the next election will put their team ahead, regardless of the important public business that can’t be done properly with a short-handed court. But it is perfectly understandable reaction under Miles’ Law. They are Republicans, and they want a Republican to name the next justice, even if that Republican is Donald Trump.

This makes us appreciate the position of Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who has again showed that where she sits is very a lonely place. Rather than jump into the partisan fray, Collins’ has been appropriately circumspect.

She expressed concern for the late justice’s family, friends and colleagues and asked that they be given a proper opportunity to mourn. And she issued a statement that was at odds with her majority leader’s:

“More than any other appointment upon which the Senate is called to pass judgment, nominees to the Supreme Court warrant in-depth consideration given the importance of their constitutional role and their lifetime tenure. Our role in the Senate is to evaluate the nominee’s temperament, intellect, experience, integrity and respect for the Constitution and the rule of law.”

We wish Collins had gone further. We wish she had asserted that the president has an obligation to nominate a new justice and the Senate has an obligation to hold hearings and submit the nomination to an up-or-down vote. But that’s easy for us to say.

Miles’ Law makes it easy for a lot of people to know where they stand on this issue, from Senate Republicans who say that a president’s term should be effectively reduced by one year if the president belongs to another party to Democrats who insist that a prompt vote is the only acceptable response to a court vacancy, even if they personally argued the opposite position when a Republican was in the White House.

But where Collins sits, there is no easy answer.

We expect that she, as a Republican, would prefer that a Republican president name the justice who would control the court’s majority. We expect that she, as a conservative, would not like to see the court lurch to the left.

But as a senator who respects the traditions of her institution and as someone who has been around long enough to know that this will not be the last Supreme Court vacancy that will need to be filled, we trust that she will not participate in short-sighted partisan maneuvering that would poison the nomination process now and for a long time to come.

Collins has staked out the right position for a conscientious senator facing an important decision. We hope others will decide to stand with her.

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The Boston Globe (Mass.), Feb. 24, 2016

Our country’s relationship with Mexico is too important to squander over a political war being waged by a presidential candidate who is behind in the polls and seems increasingly desperate to prove his hard-line credentials. We’re talking, of course, about US Senator Marco Rubio, and his misguided efforts to delay the confirmation of President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Mexico.

For nearly seven months, our southern neighbor and trading partner has been without an official representative of the US government. That void is unacceptable in an era where cooperation on border security and drug enforcement is vital for both countries.

But the Florida senator is holding up the confirmation of Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Unfortunately, the dispute has more to do with Rubio’s tone-deaf opposition to the thawing of US-Cuba relations than it does with Mexico. Rubio, a Cuban-American, is playing to the cheap seats in Florida, where hard-line anti-Cuban sentiment persists. The US Senate needs to rise above this bald-faced political gamesmanship and approve Jacobson’s appointment.

The reasons are clear. The United States and Mexico share more than just 2,000 miles of border. Mexico is the country’s third-largest trading partner (after China and Canada) and its second-largest export market. About 6 million US jobs depend on trade with Mexico. And there are about 1 million US citizens living in Mexico; some 20 million Americans travel there every year. Beyond those basic facts, cooperation is all the more urgent now that the US government is seeking the extradition of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the drug lord who was recaptured in early January, after his second escape from a top-security Mexican prison. No one should be willing to put the extradition process at risk by not having a US representative in place.

And the nativist rhetoric aimed at Mexico by another presidential candidate, Donald Trump, practically demands that the relationship be tended to sooner rather than later. “We need somebody with political heft in Mexico to carry a different message,” says Jason Marczak, director of the initiative for Latin-American economic growth at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. That message must affirm the US government’s commitment to working with Mexico.

Jacobson has stellar qualifications as a top diplomat. She is a 30-year veteran of the State Department, an influential expert in US-Mexico relations, and would be the first woman to serve in that job. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared her last fall with ample bipartisan support.

Given the importance of the job and the broad swath of support for Jacobson, Rubio’s opposition is a disservice to the country. With only 10 months left in President Obama’s term, time is running out. The Senate should insist that Rubio drop his selfish game and confirm Jacobson.

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https://bit.ly/1QDwx5K

The Concord Monitor (N.H.), Feb. 26, 2016

Imagine your life without a smart phone.

You are at the grocery store and can’t remember whether you were supposed to pick up chicken breasts or thighs for your spouse’s Crock-Pot recipe. A text message would provide an answer within a matter of seconds, but that’s not an option. So do you flip a coin or buy both? Or neither?

There are dozens of such scenarios where the absence of a smart phone makes life more complicated. But there’s a beneficial flip side, too. That call from work that would have made your blood boil goes unanswered. Instead of reading emails while the kids play on the floor, you actually interact with them and they are beyond thrilled with the attention.

That’s the way it is with technology. People embrace the convenience but are blind to the price beyond the price tag. Worst of all, that blindness is passed along to children.

The Fitbit craze is a good example.

Worn like a watch or wristband, a Fitbit tracks physical activity throughout the day. If you reach the Fitbit goal of 10,000 steps in a day, the little digital display rewards you with a virtual celebration. The devices can also track heart rate, calories burned - even the quality of your sleep. Collecting the data can become an addictive game, so of course it was only a matter of time before the trackers would find their way onto younger wrists.

Any device that encourages kids to exercise seems like a great idea. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of children are overweight or obese and the problem isn’t going away. If reading a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is no longer powerful enough to get them roaming the woods, climbing trees, digging for treasure and building a raft, maybe a digital display will do the trick. Ten thousand steps is 10,000 steps, right?

Maybe, but maybe not.

Every parent (or former child) knows that kids grow tired of the same old games, especially when the game comes with batteries. It’s only a matter of time before that beloved Fitbit is thrown in the back of a drawer to await the “Oh my God, remember this?” exclamation as she packs for college. The question is, will all that activity spurred by the device be tossed aside, too? If a kid is taking 10,000 steps not for the fun of the steps but to see the little digital display light up, what will her incentive be once the counting stops?

There is also the question of whether activity trackers feed into body image issues. For some girls and boys, a Fitbit encourages fun and exercise - nothing more, nothing less. But for others, too great a focus on the target numbers can quickly become an unhealthy obsession with end results. In a study titled “The Hidden Cost of Personal Quantification,” Jordan Etkin of Duke University found that while activity trackers increase the amount of exercise people do, “enjoyable activities can became almost like a job by focusing on the outcomes of things that used to be fun.” It’s a short journey from that mindset to self-destructive behavior such as bad diets, depression and eating disorders.

For everything technology gives the world, it seems to take something away. The job of parents in this age of iPads, Fitbits and virtual reality is to help kids maximize the educational and physical benefits of the technology while pointing out the pitfalls. And it’s not a bad idea to look to Tom Sawyer for a little guidance now and then.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1S8odQS

The Providence Journal (R.I.), Feb. 26, 2016

Many observers of the showdown between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Apple feel conflicted about how it should be resolved. Most would surely like law enforcement agents to be able to unlock the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, who with his wife gunned down 14 people in San Bernardino in December. But they would not like such an act to mar the encryption that makes Apple smartphones so secure for millions of users.

Ideally, nobody would have to choose. But Apple has purposely structured its newer phones so that the company cannot get inside them. After an interval of quiet talks in quest of compromise, the FBI went public, demanding that Apple develop software to hack into the gunman’s phone. In effect, it would force the company to create a “back door” key to its own security systems. Last week, a federal magistrate judge in California granted the FBI’s request. In an impassioned statement, chief executive Tim Cook said Apple would fight the court’s order.

The Justice Department insists that the requested software would work only on the single phone in question, unlocking potentially valuable information. But Mr. Cook warns that, on the contrary, such a limitation cannot be guaranteed. Once created, the technique could be used repeatedly, on any number of devices. Not only might Apple be subject to an onslaught of law enforcement requests to open additional phones, swamping its security systems; the sheer existence of the software could eventually place it in the wrong hands. Criminals could use it; so could authoritarian regimes.

Depending on how the court case progresses, governments such as China’s could point to an informal U.S. precedent and demand, for instance, that the phones of dissidents or religious leaders be unlocked. Apple has sold millions of iPhones in China.

Who is right? Technology experts seem to be lining up mostly on Apple’s side, but there is disagreement. For that reason, a proposal to convene an expert panel on encryption is well worth considering. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has suggested forming such a commission so that some kind of consensus on the issues at stake can be reached, and translated for the public.

Absent such a learning curve, Congress could rush to impose demands on private companies that only marginally improve evidence gathering, while devastating personal privacy. The competitiveness of U.S. companies might also suffer: foreign high-tech companies could step in, offering more secure systems. “Back-door” requirements could also facilitate the theft of trade secrets, and enable mass surveillance.

A confrontation between national security and privacy has been building for a few years now. It accelerated in 2013 when Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor, disclosed numerous instances of domestic spying by the U.S. government. Among them were years of efforts by the Central Intelligence Agency to tamper with Apple products, including planting spy tools in Apple hardware. Shortly afterward, along with other technology companies and in response to consumer demand, Apple moved toward stronger encryption.

Sensing that the San Bernardino killings make a sympathetic test case, the FBI has made a calculated attempt to win this fight in court. But it would be better if, instead, the nation updated its laws, establishing thoughtful rules for the use of modern technology in law enforcement. These are not issues that are easy to resolve, nor will they go away. But an informed public debate will serve Americans better in the long run than a legal skirmish with Apple.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1RajARu

The Caledonian Record (Vt.), Feb. 24, 2016

Gallup released a poll last week that measured trust in state governments. The state governments inspiring the least trust were Illinois, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Louisiana. The most trusted state governments were North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota.

Interestingly the least trusted governments all appear in traditional nanny states. All five of the most trusted governments are in states with Republican-controlled legislatures and executives.

The poll shows that, on average, “the 22 states that have a Republican governor and GOP majority in both houses of the legislature (60 than in the seven states that have a Democratic governor and Democratic majority in both houses (52%).”

The takeaway, though, is not “you can’t trust Democrats.” Rather, it’s - people in small states and rich states tend to have rosier outlooks (The fact that GOP controlled states do better economically is fodder for another day).

No big surprises there. What stood out for us is that Vermont ranks 19th on the list… with 60-percent of respondents expressing trust in their state government.

Apparently they haven’t heard of Vermont Health Connect; the education funding crisis; their failed, billion dollar Human Services department; explosive government spending (triple the growth, each year, of the state’s economy); the “catch-and-release” policy from the Department of Corrections; and/or the pie-in-the-sky renewable energy policy that jams wind towers down our throats and dramatically increases the cost of power in a state already suffering the nation’s highest cost.

Just to name a few.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1Llrc6Y


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