- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

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

The (New London) Day (Conn.), Feb. 2, 2016

The biggest winners of Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses may well be the guy who finished third and those pragmatic members of the Republican Party looking for a strong candidate to challenge the politically shallow Donald Trump and the extremely conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Yes, Sen. Cruz won a clear victory, albeit with only 28 percent of the vote. However, it was the 23 percent showing for the third-place finisher, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, which may turn out to be the biggest story of the night.

If Sen. Rubio can capitalize on his momentum coming out of Iowa with a strong showing in the New Hampshire primary, he will strengthen his claim as the best candidate to unite the hard-right and moderate wings of the Republican Party. He has the ability to attract the unaffiliated and Democratic votes necessary to win the presidency.

With strong showings in New Hampshire, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Ohio Gov. John Kasich could again muddle the fight to be the alternative candidate to Trump and Cruz. But at the very least, Sen. Rubio’s 23 percent third-place finish in Iowa has given hope to so-called establish Republicans that a viable alternative will emerge.

Though he has bounce back potential in New Hampshire, where polls have shown him well ahead, it was a bad night in Iowa for Mr. Trump. The billionaire real estate mogul made a tactical mistake in going for the brass ring in the farm state. In doing so he raised expectations, then failed to meet them, barely finishing ahead of Sen. Rubio. That hissing sound is the air coming out of the Trump inevitability balloon.

If Republicans can set aside their mystifying fascination with Mr. Trump, who has no consistent political ideology, it could set up a monumental primary fight for the soul of the party between Sen. Cruz and Sen. Rubio, or whoever emerges as the establishment choice.

The Cruz campaign showed its organizational strength in Iowa. Sen. Cruz is well funded and has his ground game established in the primary states to come. He is a good politician.

But as noted earlier in this editorial, his politics are extreme. Sen. Cruz would hurl the country back to a pre-New Deal United States, eliminating the departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, and the Internal Revenue Service. Sen. Cruz claims no IRS will be necessary to administer his flat tax of 10 percent on individuals and 16 percent on businesses.

Such a tax would be unfair, asking the rich to carry no greater proportional burden than the working class. And it would mean the loss of trillions of dollars in revenue, though this would suit Sen. Cruz fine. He wants to tear down the federal government and eliminate the jobs of hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

Sen. Cruz sees abortion and gay-marriage rights, as well as the concept of separation of church and state, as the product of “extreme leftists, activist judges, the Obama administration and academic elites” and would seek the appointment of Supreme Court justices to reverse judicial precedents supporting those rights.

Though he has tacked to the right in the nomination race, Sen. Rubio is a far more pragmatic conservative in the mold of House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan, the party’s vice presidential candidate in 2012. He would seek moderation of tax policy, the trimming of federal government and reform of welfare policies. Sen. Rubio is far better positioned to reach beyond the conservative base in a general election.

On the Democratic side, the political pragmatists must be alarmed by the poor showing of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who essentially ended in a caucus tie with the democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders. He has tapped into anger among progressive Democrats who feel the party has been too cozy with a system that has seen wealth increasingly shifting to a privileged super-rich class while the middle-class shrinks and struggles.

Democrats acting with their hearts back Sen. Sanders, those with their heads, Ms. Clinton. The emotion and the excitement is on the side of Sen. Sanders. But though he can prolong the fight, it is hard to see a path to the nomination for the Vermont senator. And his own brand of extremism (by U.S. standards) - breaking up the banks, expanding social service programs, providing free college tuition, installing a national health care system - would not play well in a general election. He has already pulled Ms. Clinton left.

If Ms. Clinton indeed prevails, many Democrats, particularly young people, could be left disillusioned and unenthusiastic, making the party vulnerable to a moderate Republican. But will the GOP nominate one?




The Bennington Banner (Vt.), Feb. 4, 2016

Few things tug at American heartstrings, and rightly so, than severely wounded military veterans, particularly the young men and women from our most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Wounded Warrior Project charity began in the early 2000s when a Marine Corps veteran named, John Melia - who had been wounded in a helicopter crash in 1992 off the coast of Somalia - began visiting military hospitals, giving out backpacks filled with items such as socks, toothpaste and CD players, according to a Jan. 28 article in the New York Times.

In the years since, the charity has exploded in size and done much good along the way.

From its beginning with one man handing out backpacks, “today, the charity has 22 locations offering programs to help veterans readjust to society, attend school, find work and participate in athletics,” according to the Times article. “It contributes millions to smaller veterans groups. And it has become a brand name, its logo emblazoned on sneakers, paper towel packs and television commercials that run dozens of times.”

Indeed, few who watch television have not seen country music star Trace Adkins in moving commercials with wounded young veterans.

However, this same Times article raises some serious concerns about the charity, which took in “more than $372 million in 2015 - largely from small donations from people over 65,” according to the Times.

According to the Times investigation, “about 40 percent of the organization’s donations in 2014 were spent on its overhead,” according to Charity Navigator. While other groups spend more on overhead, “it is far more than for many veterans charities, including the Semper Fi Fund, a wounded-veterans group that spent about 8 percent of donations on overhead.”

Specific examples cited in the article are disturbing, Wounded Warrior “has spent millions a year on travel, dinners, hotels and conferences that often seemed more lavish than appropriate, more than four dozen current and former employees said in interviews. Former workers recounted buying business-class seats and regularly jetting around the country for minor meetings, or staying in $500-per-night hotel rooms.”

Said Connie Chapman, an Iraq War veteran who headed the group’s Seattle office for two years, “People could spend money on the most ridiculous thing and no one batted an eye.”

To counter such criticism, Wounded Warrior has, according to the Times, “spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years on public relations and lobbying campaigns to deflect criticism of its spending and to fight legislative efforts to restrict how much nonprofits spend on overhead.”

John Melia, who founded the Wounded Warrior Project, resigned from the group in 2009 and did not talk to the Times for its article. His ex-wife, however, told the Times that Mr. Melia felt the organization had been “stolen from him.”

The Times article also raises significant questions about Wounded Warrior’s treatment of employees and its use of data - what sound like quotas - to measure productivity. Employees - many of them veterans - faced termination when leaders felt they were a “bad cultural fit.” Of course, employees don’t work out in a specific setting for many reasons, but one gets the impression from the Times article that Wounded Warriors does not like employees to raise questions and quickly terminates those who do.

As for productivity, the impression is that quota for things like job placements for veterans and the number of veterans participating in social activities were inflated for the sake of producing increasingly impressive numbers of services provided.

“They would come up with numbers based on nothing,” one former employee told the Times. “I would push back and they would get very frustrated and yell. By the time I left, we were just throwing guys in jobs to check off a box and hit the numbers.”

Those concerned with the care of veterans - and we all should be - have been rightly concerned with the recent failings of the federal Veterans Administration. But the belief of some on the right that private endeavors are automatically superior to government is not true. The Wounded Warrior Project is a case in point.

We hope that citizens will start redirecting their contributions to other groups that help wounded veterans. This might send a message to Wounded Warrior that it needs to clean up its act.




The Concord Monitor (N.H.), Feb. 3, 2016

Tuesday’s vote will mark the 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire presidential primary, which did not achieve its first-in-the-nation status until 1952. The election goes a long way toward deciding who the next president of the world’s most powerful nation will be. But this time, also at stake are the future of the fragmented Republican Party and, perhaps, the fate of the primary itself. Your participation is crucial.

So far, this election has been like no other, a test of whether, with anger loosed upon the nation, the center can hold. Or will the state, with its vote, send forth candidates from each extreme - candidates who probably could not win if nominated or may not be able to govern if elected.

Iowa is even less like the sum of America than New Hampshire, and its odd and only somewhat democratic caucus process is a poor measure of prospective presidents.

On Monday, its Republican voters chose Sen. Ted Cruz, the most hated man in Congress, as its nominee. Not one of Cruz’s Senate colleagues support him. He is a mean-spirited conservative zealot who has earned the enmity of fellow Republicans like Sen. John McCain, twice the winner of New Hampshire’s primary. Cruz is uncompromising and so intractable that, against the wishes of his party, he caused the government to shut down for 16 days in order to make a personal statement about his loathing for the Affordable Care Act. His argument on the Senate floor famously mocked that chamber by including a reading of Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham.

Democrats chose former senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton, but only narrowly over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who would represent the left wing of his party were he really a Democrat.

The self-described democratic socialist has spent most of his Senate career as an independent whose proposals for radical change earned more smiles than votes. As we said in an earlier editorial, we largely agree with Sanders’s pursuit of greater economic equality and universal health care, but he would fare no better in achieving them as president than he has as a senator.

It’s time for New Hampshire voters to put the path to the presidency back on course.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is best suited, by temperament, knowledge and experience, to carry the Republican standard. There’s a reason seven of the eight New Hampshire newspapers endorsed him. He answers questions with facts and past accomplishments, not bluster. He can get things done.

Similarly, of the New Hampshire newspapers who’ve endorsed in the Democratic primary, all, including the Keene Sentinel on New Hampshire’s border with Vermont, have endorsed Clinton. She is far and away the most qualified Democrat in the race. No one has her experience, not just in foreign policy but in putting the wheels of Washington in gear again.

The electorate, including many New Hampshire voters, is justifiably angry, but the answer doesn’t lie with candidates who want to shrink government beyond recognition or expand it with plans for financial reforms that have about the same odds of passage that a lottery ticket has of winning.

With wars in two nations, ISIS on the attack, the global economy shaky, climate change threatening and the nation still divided by race and class, this is no time to put an amateur in the Oval Office.

New Hampshire voters should say that on Tuesday.




The Boston Globe (Mass.), Feb. 6, 2016

Congressional hearings typically divide along party lines. Democrats and Republicans joust for time to make self-righteous pronouncements, showing off their staffs’ research skills. Committee members’ remarks are punctuated with sufficient outrage to imply swift action is forthcoming. It usually isn’t.

There was some of that going on Thursday when the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on drug pricing - an issue that’s bound to receive attention throughout the presidential campaign season. But there also were signs that members of Congress from both parties might be able to work together on achieving a tricky balance - making medicine affordable while still rewarding those who, against scary odds, seek to develop disease-beating treatments.

The House committee’s session attracted more notice than normal because of a brief appearance by its star witness, Martin Shkreli, aka “Pharma Bro.” Shkreli is the now-infamous former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, which bought an obscure drug that treats a parasitic infection and jacked up the price from $13.50 to $750 a pill. Shkreli, who was arrested on unrelated securities fraud charges, smirked and fidgeted in his seat before invoking the Fifth Amendment. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the committee treated with such contempt,” said Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican.

Once the Shkreli spectacle was over and the committee began grilling other witnesses - including the Food and Drug Administration’s Janet Woodcock, and executives from another Shkreli company, Valeant Pharmaceuticals - it became clear that the indignation over drug pricing was bipartisan. That offers hope, however slim, that progress can be made on an issue that will become even more urgent as aging baby boomers put added financial pressures on the health care system. It’s also far more complex than Shkreli’s “greedy drug guy” story line implies. For instance, some expensive cutting-edge drugs - like the new line of hepatitis C pills - work so well that they could prove a bargain over time. In those cases, what’s the best way to determine a fair upfront price? And how can long-term savings be quantified?

Those questions weren’t answered Thursday, but a lot of time was devoted to discussing a facet of drug-industry regulation that is easier to dissect, and change - the FDA’s massive backlog of generic-drug applications. More than 3,500 generics are awaiting regulatory approval, and it can take four years to get to the front of the line. That’s despite the 2012 passage of the Generic Drug User Fee law, which allowed the FDA to charge pharmaceutical companies fees in return for priority reviews of their products. The money collected, about $1 billion so far, is for additional staffing to clear the glut. On average, a genericcosts about 80 to 85 percent less than its brand-name equivalent, so the potential savings from increased competition are enormous.

“It’s neither rocket science nor brain surgery,” says Dr. Jerry Avorn, a Harvard Medical School professor and researcher, “just simple pharmaceutical science versus bureaucratic inertia and - apparently - inadequate person power.” The user-fee act, Avorn says, “isn’t working well enough.”

The House committee hearing followed a Senate hearing late last month that reviewed the 2012 user-fee law and reached the same conclusion - it’s taking too long to get new generics on the market. It’s a rare consensus that Congress can’t afford to squander. Martin Shkreli made himself an easy target, but holding the FDA accountable for its sluggish pace on generics could make a real difference.




The Providence Journal (R.I.), Feb. 4, 2016

World health officials are concerned that a mosquito-borne virus spreading across the Americas could be driving a spike in birth defects. The virus may be linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, which also causes temporary paralysis.

In May, an outbreak of the so-called Zika virus was reported in Brazil. Since then, the disease has apparently spread to 23 countries and territories in the region. Health officials are trying to determine whether the virus is to blame for an increase in the number of Brazilian infants born with microcephaly. The condition is associated with abnormally small heads and brain damage.

On Monday, the World Health Organization formally categorized Zika as “a public health emergency of international concern.” In Rhode Island, Nicole Alexander-Scott, the state’s health director, echoed a recommendation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that pregnant women not travel to areas where the infection appears to be spreading.

Until recently, Zika, named for the Ugandan forest where it was discovered during the 1940s, mainly infected monkeys. Human cases began appearing in the 2000s. According to the CDC, only about one in five infected people fall ill; when they do, they experience relatively mild symptoms, such as fever and joint pain. The illness is not known to be fatal.

In the United States, a handful of cases have been reported in roughly a dozen states. But because the United States has relatively effective mosquito control, a widespread outbreak is not expected here.

Nevertheless, the possible link between the Zika virus and potentially devastating effects for infants is alarming. El Salvador has advised women to avoid pregnancy for the next two years. Such advice may be extreme, but the sooner scientists can prove (or disprove) a link, the better. Unfortunately, no vaccine exists yet, nor is there even a simple diagnostic test for the Zika virus.

Brazil is scheduled to host this summer’s Olympics. Given how much international travel can aid the spread of disease, public health officials have all the more reason to swiftly solve this medical mystery.




The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Feb. 5, 2016

A massive failure of government in Flint, Michigan, has jeopardized the well-being of thousands of children. But Flint’s distance from Maine doesn’t make us safe from breakdowns in policymaking - like the failure of officials here to implement tighter criteria for diagnosing lead poisoning. The state can and should take immediate action to create rules protecting our children.

Thousands of children from around Maine are being poisoned in their homes, where lead paint is doing lifelong damage to their bodies and brains. Legislators last June enacted a law that sets tougher exposure standards and includes funds for cleaning up contaminated housing.

The bipartisan measure lowered the level of lead in the blood considered to be poisonous from 15 micrograms per deciliter to 5, in line with the federal threshold. The legislation funds building inspections and creates eight new state positions to ensure that landlords remove environmental lead hazards.

But the old standards remain in place, seven months after lawmakers tightened the state lead-exposure criteria. Why? Because the Maine Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t put the tougher benchmarks into effect.

According to an agency spokesman, the DHHS is writing rules for the new lead-poisoning threshold and hopes to propose them soon. This news represents only incremental progress, since the routine rulemaking process calls for a four-month public comment period before proposed rules can take effect.

In a public health emergency, however, the agency could implement the rules immediately - and we think Maine’s lead-exposure crisis qualifies. Lead is known to stunt children’s growth, cause lifelong learning and behavior troubles and raise the chance that they’ll drop out of school and break the law.

What’s more, the scope of the problem is huge: Nearly 30,000 Maine children under 6 live in housing built before 1950, which is the most likely to be lead-contaminated.

And the most likely victims are poor children. Their families live in cheaper rental units that predate the 1970s ban on lead paint. And in Maine, which has the nation’s sixth-oldest housing stock, there are a lot of older houses and apartments around.

Recent events in Flint - where the city water supply is so lead-tainted that a federal emergency has been declared - have raised awareness of lead poisoning. But it took 17 months for Flint residents to get city and state officials to take their concerns seriously. Mainers should be able to count on a much more expeditious and effective response from the people who work on their behalf.




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