- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

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

The Providence Journal (R.I.), March 24, 2016

Another attack in the heart of Europe. Another slaughter of civilians, with at least 31 killed and dozens injured. Another claim of responsibility by the Islamic State.

The attacks Tuesday in Brussels, the seat of the European Union and the headquarters of NATO, were meant to sow fear and confusion, which they did. They are also meant as another battle in a struggle of civilizations - violent religious fundamentalism vs. freedom.

We all are, in a tactical sense, soft targets. It would be easy for a determined attacker to single out an undefended place anywhere, blow it up and kill innocent people. It will never be possible to guard against every attack, any place, at any time. Tuesday’s assaults follow deadly terror attacks this month in Turkey, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.

Yet, collectively, we in the West are not a soft target. We do not revel in the death of defenseless civilians. We mourn together, we work together and, under strong leadership, we can respond together.

A group of extremists send darts into our midst because we choose to be governed by free choices and laws, because we respect differences.

We must recognize that we are at war against an insidious and implacable enemy that does not want to observe civilized norms. America, taking a leadership role that no one else will assume, must work far more aggressively and collaboratively with its allies to weaken and destroy ISIS, and to keep track of its agents. We must call radical Islamic terrorism what it is and assess the threat honestly. Without sacrificing essential freedoms and our values of pluralism, we must learn from past attacks and look at the best ways to shield the innocent from new plots. Immigration policies should continue to place public safety first and humanitarian concerns second. But we should not alter those policies on the basis of waves of fear and xenophobia after each attack, and we should resolutely reject the demagogic cries of some, such as Donald Trump, to close our borders to Muslims.

Tuesday’s attack at the Brussels airport and a metro station came days after the arrest in Brussels of a top ISIS suspect in the November mass murders in Paris. The latest attack, possibly intended as retaliation, must not deter us from holding those who kill, or who direct killing, accountable.




The Concord Monitor (N.H.), March 23, 2016

As we write, one of the most important games in baseball history is being played. On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Rays took the field against Cuba’s national baseball team in Havana. In the stands was President Obama. Seated next to him was Cuba’s president, 85-year-old Raul Castro, Fidel Castro’s brother. Obama’s visit to Cuba, the first since Calvin Coolidge visited 88 years ago, coupled with his decision to open an American embassy and remove many travel and banking restrictions, marks the end of an embarrassing, counterproductive and downright stupid chapter in American history. We hope.

Removing the trade embargo that has crippled Cuba’s economy and helped to impoverish its people for the past half-century can only be done by Congress, something the current Republican-controlled Congress won’t do. It is also progress a President Cruz or Trump would undo.

The Castro brothers, along with Argentine doctor Che Guevara and Cuban poet Jose Marti, among others, were right to revolt against the corrupt, U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. No less than President John F. Kennedy said so.

“I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: To some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear,” Kennedy said in 1963.

However, their choice of a replacement political system, a communist dictatorship, was unfortunate.

America’s response, an attempt to isolate Cuba though it’s just 90 miles from Miami and has a long history of close ties with the United States, helped keep the Castro government in power and guaranteed that it would stay in the Soviet orbit. Today, it is one of the last of the world’s communist nations, but it is no North Korea. It is not a threat to the United States or the world. Later this week, the Rolling Stones will play a free concert in Havana to a crowd estimated at 400,000.

Like many nations ruled by dictators, many of Cuba’s people and the majority of its youth admire the U.S. and long for a system that gives them a say over their country’s future. Obama’s visit will swell their longing for democracy. America, too, never severed its ties with Cuba, at least culturally. Scores of American professional baseball players hail from Cuba, and Jackie Robinson played there before coming back from spring training to break the color barrier in baseball. Among the Cuban greats are Minnie Minoso, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez Pedroso, Tony Oliva, and two who were in the stands on Tuesday: beloved Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant and Jose Cardenal.

Desi Arnaz, a.k.a. Ricky Ricardo, never left America’s TVs. The music played at the Buena Vista Social Club and the voice of Gloria Estefan can be heard in any big city. Cuban restaurants dot the American landscape.

For 50 years, the world watched as its biggest superpower picked on a little island nation of 11 million hungry people just off its shores. It’s only a matter of time before the Castro brothers pass into history, and the Cuban people will be faced with a decision to accept whoever follows them or demand a new system of government.

Obama’s visit, and closer cultural and economic ties to the United States, will tilt them in favor of democracy.




The Republican (Mass.), March 24, 2016

Some complex problems have similarly complex solutions. Others can be easily solved. And then there are those that provide those with strong ideological positions good reason to stake out their ground, leaving no clear path toward rational compromise.

An example of the third type was on display at the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The question: What to do when religious objections to a law that bump up against efforts to see that the law is fully implemented?

Broadly speaking, there are two positions on the matter: a generally liberal one, and a more conservative view.

Which makes the current makeup of the high court a potentially significant problem.

The fundamental question in the case before the court, which is actually a number of cases combined, is whether a way can be found to see that female employees of religiously affiliated organizations receive contraceptive coverage as part of their health insurance without violating an employer’s objections to providing such coverage. Though the solution offered may seem simple enough - have employers fill out a form stating their objections and then obtain a third party to provide the contraception - religious charities and other groups have objected, arguing that this still makes them complicit in something they find morally objectionable.

Try to find some common ground there. Try to keep all parties happy.

The opposing views were starkly displayed in Wednesday’s oral arguments, with the four liberal justices clearly seeing the current fix as a viable solution, while the four generally conservative members of the court believed quite the contrary.

Which may well leave us nowhere, more or less. Since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month, the court has just eight members, setting up exactly this kind of deadlock. If the court does, in fact, vote 4-4 in the contraception case, the compromise that’s in place would remain in most, but not all, of the nation. That’s because there’s not been unanimity in all the lower court decisions.

This is only one example of why refusing to fill the vacancy - as Republicans in the Senate insist they’ll do until after the next president is elected - is patently unwise.

Keeping the court short-handed will likely ensure a surfeit of tie votes. And that’s a losing proposition for everyone.




The Bennington Banner (Vt.), March 23, 2016

Israel’s far right has asserted its total control over the government and continues its policy of apartheid against the Palestinian people.

It was only a matter of time before it began to lash out at its own people. According to David Shulman, writing for the New York Review of Books, Israel’s security agencies have been mobilized to crush any dissent or opposition to the country’s policies that continue to devalue the lives of millions of people in Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.

“Israeli human rights activists and what is left of the Israeli peace groups, including joint Israeli-Palestinian peace organizations, are under attack,” writes Shulman.

Tactics that have been used against B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, two of the most effective opposition groups in Israel, are now being used against other humans rights organizations in Israel.

“(O)pen attacks on the Israeli left have now assumed a far more sinister and ruthless character; some of them are being played out in the interrogation rooms of Israeli prisons,” writes Shulman. “Politically driven harassment, including violent and illegal arrest, interrogation, denial of legal support, virulent incitement, smear campaigns, even death threats issued by proxy …”

This “everyday state terror,” as Shulman characterizes it, used to be reserved exclusively for Palestinians, but now is being wielded against Israelis opposed to the torment being inflicted upon the residents of the Occupied Territories.

“The witch-hunt began this time with a targeting of the ex-soldiers’ organization Breaking the Silence by a strident chorus on the right,” wrote Shulman. “There have been calls to outlaw the organization entirely.”

Netanyahu has accused Breaking the Silence of “trying to tie Israel’s hands in its attempts to defend itself.”

Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. “We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life,” states the organization’s website.

A new law passed in Israel calls for all human rights organizations to report who they receive money from.

Initially, the law call for representatives of left-wing organizations that receive foreign funding “to wear identity badges whenever they entered the Knesset or other public spaces, but Netanyahu, still apparently capable of seeing the invidious analogy to the badges the Nazis forced Jews to wear in public, squashed this clause,” notes Shulman.

The human rights organizations have reported cases of spies in their ranks, private detectives following organizers around and the arbitrary arrests and detentions of activists. While Israelis have received some protection from the courts, Palestinian activists have literally been kidnapped and dropped off at military detention camps, writes Shulman.

“We are seeing a general assault by the government and right-wing groups on those parts of Israeli society that are still standing up for democratic values,” said Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for B’Tselem. “The aim is to silence us.”

“Anyone who opposes the occupation in word or deed is now at risk. For the right, patriotism is synonymous with occupation and all that comes with it, above all the dispossession and expulsion of Palestinians and the theft of their lands,” notes Shulman.

It should really not come as a surprise that Israel’s government is cracking down on organizations and individuals who are appalled at the treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Israel’s government has been slowly slipping toward totalitarianism for the past several decades. Any defiance of its policy toward the Occupied Territories and the expansion of settlements doesn’t fit into the right-wing’s nationalistic narrative. The voice of the Palestinians has been effectively silenced and now the right wing is doing the same to the voices of conscience within Israel who dare stand up to injustice, atrocity and violent hyperbole.




The Portland Press Herald (Maine), March 24, 2016

In just a year, Community Health Options went from being a national success story to a company on the verge of insolvency. It would be tempting to blame that change on local management, particularly the decision to give hefty pay raises to its top executives.

But if overpaying executives killed health insurance companies, there wouldn’t be any still in business.

The roller-coaster ride that Community Health Options is on says more about the politics of our nation’s health care system than it does about the company, and the remedy should come from Washington, not Maine.

Nonprofit health insurance co-ops like Community Health Options were created with federal loans to offer an alternative to for-profit insurance companies on state exchanges. The hope was that these experimental organizations would develop lower-cost treatment models and create downward pressure on prices through competition.

But many of them got off to a bad start because they could not sell enough policies to cover their costs, and many of them have already failed.

Community Health Options was not one of those companies. It enrolled customers at better than 2½ times target levels, and finished 2014 as the only co-op in the nation to end the year without a loss.

But in the health insurance business, high enrollments can also carry a risk. The new co-op offered the lowest premiums and captured 83 percent of the individual market on the state’s exchange. Unlike an existing company with a long history of claims to guide them, the new co-ops set their rates based on assumptions of how much their customers would use their plans. But many of the new customers were people who had not previously had health insurance, and they had pent-up demand for services. They used their coverage at a pace that exceeded projections.

A properly capitalized private insurance company would have the cash to manage that kind of fluctuation. When the co-ops were created, the federal government was supposed to provide that backing. But Obamacare foes in Congress have cut back that aspect of the program by two-thirds, leaving the co-ops to fend for themselves.

Community Health Options lost $31 million last year and has already put aside $43 million for losses in 2016. State insurance regulators have proposed putting the company into receivership and canceling policies for 18,000 people, an idea that the federal government has blocked. But the feds are not offering a better solution to rescue the co-op.

The problem isn’t Community Health Options - it’s that health care is too expensive. In the past, we dealt with high costs by pricing millions of people out of the insurance market. Now, when everyone is mandated to get coverage, the focus should be on reducing costs.

Competition was the mechanism that was supposed to make the Affordable Care Act work. In Maine, there are only two for-profit companies that sell policies on the exchange, and there is little pressure on them to lower prices.

The co-ops were built to develop relationships with providers and create integrated health care systems that get paid for keeping patients healthy, not just for treating them when they get sick.

That is still the right goal, but they need more time. Federal authorities should give these co-ops the support that was promised so they can develop a lower-cost treatment model that could drive costs down for everyone.




The Record-Journal (Conn.), March 21, 2016

For the second time in a year, animal rights advocates are celebrating a big victory.

On March 17, SeaWorld announced it will immediately stop breeding killer whales, which, essentially, means an end to the theme park’s iconic orca shows.

This comes on the heels of The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ March 2015 announcement that it will pull its elephant act from the show by 2018.

Truth be told, neither SeaWorld nor Barnum & Bailey had much choice but to change. Consumers have grown weary of such animal acts.

The Associated Press reports “park attendance at SeaWorld dropped after the 2013 release of the documentary ‘Blackfish,’ which was highly critical of the orca program,” and SeaWorld reported a fourth-quarter loss of $11 million in February.

“As society’s understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it. By making this the last generation of orcas in our care and reimagining how guests will encounter these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter,” said Joel Manby, president and chief executive officer of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.

Barnum & Bailey also acknowledged the changing times. Alana Feld, executive vice president for Feld Entertainment, parent company of the circus, said last year, “There’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers. A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants.”

Yes, times have changed, and for the better.

In its statement regarding the orca whales, SeaWorld said it’s also teaming with the Humane Society in an effort to help educate guests on animal welfare and conservation issues.

The Humane Society is excited about the partnership.

“SeaWorld’s commitment to end breeding of orcas is a long-held goal of many animal advocacy organizations, and we commend the company for making this game-changing commitment,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society.

While a certain segment of society will view SeaWorld’s and Barnum & Bailey’s decision as wrong-headed; a kowtowing to the Political Correctness Police, we don’t see it that way. Treating animals as indentured servants who exist only to entertain humans is not OK. It’s shameful.




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