- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

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

New Haven Register (Conn.), Dec. 30, 2015

Environmentalists nationwide may feel like taking a victory lap, chanting “exfoliate this!” after President Barack Obama signed into law the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. The measure phases out manufacturing cosmetic products containing microbeads by July 1, 2017, and the sale of beauty products containing them by July 1, 2018.

The law also would ban over-the-counter items that contain microbeads, such as whitening toothpastes, acne scrubs and wrinkle creams. Those will no longer be allowed to be manufactured beginning July 1, 2018, and their sale will be banned on July 1, 2019.

This is good news; banning the microbeads will go a long way in protecting the country’s waterways.

Microbeads are those tiny, sometimes colorful beads- about the size of a pinhead -found infused throughout toothpaste, facial soaps and shampoo, among other products. We’ve all been lured by the advertising promise of “exfoliating” all that dead skin from our faces and bodies so we can appear fresh-faced and scrubbed clean.

But there was a price for that exfoliation.

The problem comes in when the tiny plastic beads- made with polypropylene and polyethylene -are rinsed off; they flow right down the drain and out into the waterways. More than 3,000 products contain polyethylene and an estimated 8 trillion microbeads enter the country’s waterways daily. Most do not biodegrade and simply float through the waters, where they can be eaten by fish and other marine life because the tiny beads are the size of their food.

That means there is the potential the beads can carry pollutants into the food chain. That is a particular problem in Connecticut, where the microbeads end up in Long Island Sound, which is critical to the state’s economy.

The new law removes a threat from the nation’s lakes, seas and oceans that environmentalists have long held threatens the “quality of the water, aquatic life, the food chain and public health.”

We applaud Democrats and Republicans for recognizing the public and environmental danger and acting swiftly after studies showed the minuscule plastic beads were flowing into bodies of water everywhere in the U.S. It took just nine months from the time the Microbead-Free Waters Act was introduced to becoming a common-sense law of the land.

Protecting our food supply, environment and aquatic life are priorities that benefit all of us.




The Caledonian Record (Vt.), Dec. 30, 2015

On Monday Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty announced there would be no criminal charges filed against two Cleveland police officers in the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

“Simply put, given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications by all involved that day, the evidence did not indicate criminal conduct by police,” McGinty explained.

Rice was playing with a BB-gun pistol in a public park last year. A caller told the 911 dispatcher that a young man looked like he had a gun but it could be fake.

Moments later, video clearly shows, a patrol car screams into the middle of the park and a rookie police officer exits the vehicle with his gun blazing. There appears to be no effort made by police to do anything but shoot Rice.

McGinty argues that Rice looked older than 12; that the 911 dispatcher didn’t relay information that the gun might be fake; and that it appeared to police that the kid was reaching for the gun holstered in the waistband of his sweatpants.

That all could be true. But it doesn’t change the material fact that police shot and killed a child who wouldn’t have been found guilty of anything in a criminal court.

Though we stand solidly behind brave law enforcement officers, who routinely risk their lives in high-adrenaline situations, we don’t understand this Grand Jury finding. Society cannot allow innocent children to be killed with impunity.




Daily Hampshire Gazette (Mass.), Dec. 31, 2015

The new year brings a heightened sense of possibility, a wash of new ideas, a hope rooted in the freedom to think in fresh ways. As we enter 2016, however, a countervailing force threatens that renewing energy- a push to clamp down on free expression.

Last year, students at Smith College and the University of Missouri who were staging public protests against racism tried to carve out “safe spaces” where journalists could not operate with the independence guaranteed by the First Amendment. The success the Islamic State and other terrorists have had in using the Internet to recruit would-be jihadists has recently prompted calls from American presidential candidates and even some legal scholars for new limits on its use.

The impulse to censor has roots in legitimate complaints and fears. The protests by students about racism’s lingering toll and their elders’ failure to address it ring important and true. And the way terrorists have used the Web to recruit or inspire would-be jihadists to slaughter innocent people from Syria to San Bernardino provides legitimate cause for alarm.

Rather than trying to shut down the flow of evil expression, we should remember the words written in 1927 by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Brandeis wrote these words in a California case that helped build a body of law that justifies suppressing speech only in the rare cases where such speech creates a “clear imminent danger.” To cite the famous example, shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater is speech unworthy of protection because it might set off a deadly stampede. But operating a website to celebrate theater disruption is, however ill-advised, permissible- just as building a website to point out the folly of such thinking is permissible.

In the wake of the recent spasms of violence inspired by the Islamic State, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said the government should recruit Bill Gates to shut down portions of the Internet; Democrat Hillary Clinton took a more moderate stance, saying government officials should press web hosting companies to shutter jihadist sites.

The politicians found some unlikely support from legal scholars including University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner. Writing in Slate, Posner argued not only for companies like Facebook and YouTube to censor terrorist propaganda, but also for the government to make it illegal for web surfers to even look at sites carrying such hateful talk.

Such proposals have a gut-level appeal; why make it easy for terrorists to poison the minds of the naive and the disaffected? The key question is whether, and how, the government should use its enormous power to intervene.

Web companies can and should voluntarily limit content they deem harmful. But it’s a step down a slippery slope to have the government require such censorship, or to practice it. Similarly, college students, professors and administrators should think hard before trying to shut down the free flows of ideas- even, and perhaps especially, those they find offensive. If students want to brainstorm in private, fine. But if they are acting in public and seeking attention through the media, they must allow unfettered and independent news coverage.

It wasn’t so long ago that people in positions of power might have wanted to exclude reporters from campus protests against the Vietnam War. Surely today’s protesters would agree that kind of “space” would be the opposite of safe.

As Justice Brandeis noted, the surest way to fight destructive speech is with constructive speech. Speak out against racism, and the voices of bigotry will find themselves overwhelmed. Address the injustices that foment terrorism and the calls for jihad will fall on uncaring ears. Ring in the new year with speech that is not always perfect, but is vigorous and free.




The Concord Monitor (N.H.), Dec. 31, 2015

It’s difficult not to rejoice at the news that Martin Shkreli, the notorious, 32-year-old former hedge fund manager and prescription drug vulture was arrested and charged with defrauding his investors. Shkreli became infamous when his latest company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, purchased the rights to make a life-saving drug and raised its price from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

Shkreli bragged about that achievement, one replicated with the purchase of the rights to produce other crucial drugs whose patents had expired. But Shkreli was not alone in legally taking advantage of loopholes in the law, government incentives, FDA rules and market factors that allow pharmaceutical companies to make huge profits by controlling the market for orphan drugs and even commonly used medications, such as the antibiotic doxycycline.

According to reporter Andrew Pollack, writing in the New York Times, the price of an old drug used to treat multiple sclerosis increased from $10,000 per year to $60,000 in less than a decade. One company raised the price of a drug used to treat spasms in children from $40 per vial to $10,000. New drugs to treat cancer commonly cost $10,000 per month or more.

Presidential candidates are talking about drug prices though no one has suggested that the United States control prices the way most nations do. A survey last fall by Reuters found that Americans pay three to 16 times more for prescription drugs than residents of most nations. The price of top brand-name drugs sold in the United States increased by 127 percent between 2008 and 2014. That won’t change by locking up Martin Shkreli.

To stop the gouging, laws will have to change and loopholes must be closed.

Hillary Clinton has proposed capping what a patient must pay per month for a drug at $250. Both Clinton and rival Bernie Sanders want to allow Medicare to use its clout to negotiate with drug companies. How such proposals fare in a Republican-controlled Congress is another matter.

One answer, at least when it comes to drugs no longer under patent protection, is to create nonprofit companies to produce them. One such effort is under way in Massachusetts, where Deborah Drew, a veteran of several Big-Pharma companies, is raising money to open Drew Quality, a nonprofit that will produce generic drugs. Drew hopes to charge prices that will allow employees to be paid well and fund expansion, but otherwise sell pills for as little as possible.

So far, the idea has proven too new to win support from philanthropic foundations, but Drew’s initial request for $2.5 million in funding is within Kickstarter range.

The Gates Foundation, which has funded global efforts to lower the price of drugs such as those used to prevent malaria, should consider backing Drew’s effort. So should billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, who recently announced his intention to create a nonprofit to work on immigration and education reform.

In the meantime, super-wealthy people who want to stop price gouging and the need for people to cut pills in half or go without medication should think about what Drew’s doing.

Not long ago, Puerto Rico was one of the world’s top five producers of pharmaceuticals. Then favorable federal rules to benefit or subsidize manufacturing on the island expired. Now, the island is flirting with bankruptcy, the unemployment rate is 12.6 percent and 41 percent of the island’s residents are poor.

Former drug manufacturing factories are empty. Workers are available. That makes the island a good place for a nonprofit to produce affordable, generic drugs on a large scale.




The Providence Journal (R.I.), Jan. 2, 2016

Rather than leave a sufficient force to prevent a power vacuum in Iraq, the United States precipitously withdrew all of its combat troops at the end of 2011, putting at risk years of enormously costly efforts to create a stable country and ally in place of the bellicose regime run by murderous dictator Saddam Hussein. So it was terribly sad when the terror group ISIS seized control of the important city of Ramadi last May, as Iraqi forces wilted and fled.

Fortunately, that supposed ISIS triumph was short-lived.

According to various media reports, Iraqi troops- part of a U.S.-led coalition -have almost completely recaptured Ramadi from ISIS. It is the capital of the country’s largest province, Anbar, and is strategically located along the Euphrates, one of the largest rivers in Western Asia.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a speech on state television, “2016 will be the year of the big and final victory, when (ISIS’s) presence in Iraq will be terminated.” He added that Iraqi troops are also “coming to liberate” the city of Mosul “and it will be the fatal and final blow” to ISIS.

It is far too early to celebrate what Mr. al-Abadi sees as an impending victory. At the same time, he has a point: The liberation of Mosul would be a huge blow to the terrorist group.

ISIS took enormous pride in capturing Ramadi last May, raising its flag in triumph at the government headquarters. While the latest turn of events does not mean the militants will suddenly drop their weapons and head home, it should help weaken ISIS.

To be sure, such groups as ISIS, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Hamas, Hezbollah and others that draw strength from religious hatreds and terrorizing civilians will not fade easily. The United States and its allies have a tough job on their hands.

Still, ISIS’s loss of Ramadi should damage morale, perhaps discouraging new recruits from joining. In the words of Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “It shows once again that ISIS is not unbeatable.” It also could strengthen President Obama’s argument that his plan to weaken ISIS is working.




The Valley News (N.H.), Dec. 29, 2015

Presidential candidates have long showered New Hampshire voters with abundant praise for the seriousness with which they take their civic duty to winnow the primary field. Some of that flattery may even be sincere.

This year, though, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who each may be facing a must-win situation while trailing Donald Trump badly in the polls in the Granite State, are mixing the fulsome praise with an underlying message: Be careful not to mess this up, folks.

For example, The New York Times reported a few days ago that in Exeter recently, Bush engaged in this extended riff: “The question is, will New Hampshire want to support a guy who might tarnish this extraordinary reputation that you have, which is first-in-the nation status, where you make people walk through the hot coals each and every time they come, where you challenge people, where you have them learn how to get better at doing this? New Hampshire is an extraordinary part of this process, and I don’t think Donald Trump’s going to survive New Hampshire, to be honest with you.”

For his part, Christie told a town-hall meeting in Peterborough that, “America is counting on you,” and, in case voters attending missed the point, noted later that, “You have enormous responsibility.” He later recounted meeting a voter who complained of feeling powerless this year. “I looked at him, I said, ‘Stop it, powerless. You’re a voter in New Hampshire. You’re among the most powerful people in the world right now.’ “

The subtext seems clear: New Hampshire’s reputation for seriously vetting candidates is on the line when the Republican leader board is topped by a candidate who is long on bluster, short on substance and who doesn’t engage much in the kind of “retail politics” that voters here traditionally insist on. And if the Granite State anoints a buffoon, why should it retain its cherished, and lucrative, status as first among primaries?

That thought has apparently crossed the minds of party elders in the state. Former Sen. Judd Gregg is among those who contend that Granite State voters will come to their senses in the six weeks between now and the Feb. 9 primary. “They’re not going to throw away their votes,” he told the Times, perhaps with his fingers crossed.

We’re not convinced of that at this point, although we suspect that the New Hampshire primary would survive a Trump victory, even if the Bush and Christie candidacies did not. But the fact that Trump holds a double-digit lead over his nearest competitor in the New Hampshire polls does raise the question of whether his ascendancy results from an unusual political dynamic this cycle or whether New Hampshire is subtly changing its own outlook. Or is it that so far voters are just enjoying the reality show that the Republican presidential primary has become and will turn the channel to the news when it’s time to vote? Let’s hope so.




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