- Associated Press - Friday, October 28, 2016

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

The Hartford Courant (Conn.), Oct. 22, 2016

Mornings are cool, fog shrouds the road to work, and autumn, that entrance into the dark tunnel of winter, is fully arrived.

Fall’s an ironic season. For poets, it’s a time of winding down, when colorful leaves let go of summer’s greens and bring forebodings of winter’s symbolic death. For the rest of us, it’s a time of increased activity, with lessons to be learned, jobs to be done, appointments to be kept, a quickening as the holidays approach.

So now, the alarm rings in a gloomy half-light whose mood seems amplified by the shrill morning newscasts detailing the latest ugly turn in this year’s presidential campaign. We never like to wish away our days, but we can’t be blamed for hoping that Election Day will give us civic relief and an opportunity to find our way back to a higher plane. Bickering in Washington or here in Connecticut has not provided a path to tackling the serious problems that need lasting solutions.

Perhaps that’s one reason we take such pleasure in the brilliantly colored leaves illuminating our ridge tops or the lone maple, fiery red, on the corner of a city street. Or it’s why we enjoy the fresh feel of the air when we step outside. Old seasonal friends are back to reassure us that there are things bigger, more enduring than our daily travail.

There’s nothing new in fall’s arrival, but there is, each year, something new about fall to each of us. It’s been a year since we last passed this place and, though we know the way, our direction has often changed, altered by friends gained or lost, grief or joy, sickness or health. So, even as we come back to this place and take it in again, we can’t help but wonder how it will look next year.




The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Oct. 25, 2016

Devon Higgins started using drugs as a teenager who struggled with attention deficit disorder, anxiety and depression.

“He told me once that he immediately loved oxy (the synthetic opioid oxycodone) because he didn’t have any pain,” Higgins’ sister Jaime Higgins told the Portland Press Herald. Last month, she got the call that her brother was dead, killed by an overdose before reaching his 30th birthday.

Devon Higgins’ death is far from unique. There were 272 drug overdose deaths in Maine last year, and that record is likely to be eclipsed in 2016. Like Higgins, many of these casualties had family members who cared about them and tried desperately to get them into treatment. In Higgins’ case, his sister is the coordinator of Operation Hope, the Scarborough Police Department’s effort to get addicts into treatment, and he was a successful graduate of Drug Treatment Court, thriving under the strict supervision the program offered.

Sadly, the help came too late. The time for intervention may have been long before he ever started.

Researchers in Canada have identified four traits that put young people at risk of addiction. They are sensation-seeking, impulsiveness, anxiety sensitivity and hopelessness.

Young people like Higgins could be struggling with one or more of these factors before they start to display symptoms that lead to diagnoses like ADD or depression in their teenage years. With the right intervention, they could learn to manage their conditions before finding a substance that makes all their pain disappear.

A new program called Preventure has been tested in Europe, Canada and Japan and has shown dramatic results. Instead of offering blanket statements like “Just say no” to discourage all children from getting involved in drugs, they identify the traits that put students at risk and involve them in workshops designed to work on their vulnerabilities. In early testing, researchers believe that they can identify up to 90 percent of the students at highest risk, and can prevent many of them from becoming addicted at a young and vulnerable age.

Maine’s opioid epidemic is a stubborn problem that does not lend itself to easy answers. Law enforcement is necessary to disrupt the supply of drugs, and access to treatment is essential to save the lives of the people who become addicted. But early intervention programs that prevent potential addicts from ever using in the first place may be the most important piece of an effective drug policy.




The (Worcester) Telegram & Gazette (Mass.), Oct. 25, 2016

Signs of the polarization that has gripped our nation are all around us, including on today’s page with one commentary on the dangers and hypocrisy over WikiLeaks and another, if one study is to be believed, on the very health of democracy. It’s about more than Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton, neither of whom would stand a chance in a more ordinary year. The underlying issues have been coming to a head for years. Even the recent vice presidential debate between the mild-mannered Mike Pence and Tim Kaine - both devoutly religious and both chosen to “balance” the unpopular candidates at the top of their tickets - devolved into chaotic exchanges with the candidates talking over each other, albeit with a touch more decorum.

The death of Antonin Scalia has played a critical role, his vacant seat leaving a divided court on all the hot-button issues. Obama tried to appease Republicans by nominating a 63-year old moderate, Merrick Garland. Liberals would have preferred a younger and more liberal choice; while Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has refused even to hold hearings on Judge Garland because “the American people should have a voice in choosing the next justice,” as if the people had no role in electing Obama to a four-year term in 2012.

Concerns over the Supreme Court no doubt motivate many mainstream Republicans and others to support Mr. Trump despite his lack of experience and his incendiary approach to politics. Yet others are attracted to his candidacy precisely because of his lack of experience and his incendiary approach to politics.

A sizable proportion of the American population is feeling insecure and threatened by the demographic and economic changes underway, by the continuing unrest in the Middle East, by the refugee crisis in Europe, and by the apparently growing threat of “home-grown” terrorism. The coastal elites may think these people ill-informed and bigoted, “deplorables,” but their fears and insecurities have an unquestioned basis in reality and there will be a price to pay no matter who wins if their concerns continue to be ignored.

The two major parties are expressing contradictory narratives about the causes of the crises we face today, about the nature of American society, and about the solutions to our most pressing problems.

Trump supporters feel deserted by politicians and business elites who they believe have let their manufacturing jobs disappear, have empowered illegal immigrants at the expense of the white working class, and who have presided over a sluggish economy that has still not wholly recovered from the financial crisis of 2008. They believe Obama has failed to exert American military power and therefore has squandered the global power and influence the US enjoyed for the past 50 years, not to mention allowed the rise of ISIS. To Trump supporters, Obamacare is a cumbersome government program passed over Republican objections and with rising costs being forced on an unwilling public.

Clinton supporters see Obamacare as a flawed compromise with the insurance companies that at least provides a minimum of health coverage that might help us catch up with the rest of the developed world. To Clinton supporters our growing diversity is a sign of strength rather than a threat to the traditions of American life. And to the Clinton camp - despite overwhelming support of both Republicans and Democrats, including Ms. Clinton - George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq empowered Iran, led to a wholly predictable Iraq civil war, rallied much of world opinion against the U.S., and helped inspire the rise of ISIS and the disintegration of the Middle East.

If Ms. Clinton wins, more likely, Mr. Trump has left open the possibility he will challenge the results. However quixotic any challenge might be, he can still agitate enough followers to make any meaningful national unity impossible. If the partisanship of the campaign continues after the election, our adversaries will be delighted and our friends dismayed. And while it may serve Mr. Trump’s purposes, it doesn’t serve the country. And if Ms. Clinton should lose?

Political opponents, no matter how misguided, are decent people trying to do the right thing. It’s the only entry point to rational debate, compromise and problem-solving in the nation’s best interest. We’re all Americans. It’s what the founders intended and that’s what we seem to have forgotten.




The Concord Monitor (N.H.), Oct. 27, 2016

Drug lords look with envy on the markups some pharmaceutical companies get away with. Hospitals, clinics and physicians are sick over the relentless and rapid rise in prescription drug costs that can no longer be escaped by substituting generic medications. Premiums under the Affordable Care Act are expected to increase by 25 percent, in part because the law does nothing to reduce the drug costs that are becoming an ever bigger factor in the increasing cost of health care.

Recently, the Monitor’s Ella Nilsen described the plight of Dartmouth-Hitchcock, which was forced to announce the layoff of dozens of employees, in part to make up for losses on the drugs it used. The situation is the same at Concord Hospital, where per-patient drug spending increases by nearly 25 percent per year, and at Franklin and Laconia regional hospitals, where spending on pharmaceuticals has increased by $1 million per month.

Nationally, the situation is just as bad. About one in five Americans with one or more prescriptions can’t afford to fill them on schedule. Americans pay far more than citizens of other nations, not because they use more health care or drugs but because they pay so much for them.

Price gouging by drug companies and a lack of competition plays a big role. Columbia University economist and health policy professor Jeffrey Sachs cited some of the most egregious examples in a recent New York Times essay. Gilead Sciences, Sachs said, bought the patent to a new miracle drug that cures hepatitis C in 2011 for $11 billion. It then raised the price for the drug, which costs about a buck a pill to make, to $1,000 a pill. It was soon making a profit a more than $11 billion per year on the medication. The same sort of thing happened with the EpiPens used by millions of Americans.

The high cost of health care is one of many reasons that the American life expectancy, at 78.8 years, is two years shorter than the average in developed nations. America also has the greatest income disparity of those nations. A male in the top 1 percent has a life expectancy of 87.3 years, 15 years longer than a male in the bottom 1 percent.

There is no instant answer to the escalating drug costs that, despite wonderful medical advances, is making them unaffordable save for switching to a single-payer system like other nations use where governments, after negotiations, set drug prices. But there are a few things Congress should do.

First, it should end the prohibition on permitting the Medicare Part D system to negotiate drug prices like the Veterans Administration has long done. That would save taxpayers and senior citizens a fortune and also put pressure on drug companies to reduce prices for all.

Second, Americans pay far more than residents of other nations to buy the same drugs from the same makers. Again, because most of those nations set the prices they are willing to pay. Congress should allow Americans to fill prescriptions and import medications from licensed pharmacies in Canada and perhaps other nations. That, too, would exert downward pressure on drug prices at home.

Third, patent law should be revised to prevent pharmaceutical companies from making minor or cosmetic changes in medication to extend the life of the patent and the monopoly control it provides. It should also provide tax incentives for makers to manufacture a generic drug that’s in short supply or unfairly priced.

The drug lobby is powerful, but drug spending, $87 billion four years ago, is on track to hit $400 billion by 2020. To prevent that, Congress has to act.




The Providence Journal (R.I.), Oct. 22, 2016

Rhode Island does not have to look far for a model of excellence in public education. Right next door is Massachusetts, a national leader in school reform. Its students do better than those in Rhode Island, even in directly comparable communities.

The Oct. 16 story by Linda Borg (“Why Massachusetts schools are better”) explained why.

Massachusetts developed a comprehensive plan and stuck to it over the last 20-plus years. Rhode Island developed no such comprehensive plan, rolling out its reforms piecemeal and sporadically.

Massachusetts relied on assessments of students to find out what was going right or wrong. Rhode Island officials listened to special interests that complained students were “over-tested.”

Massachusetts tied graduation to a high-stakes test and refused to buckle under the inevitable, intense political pressure. Rhode Island buckled.

Rhode Island “raced to the top” under a program advanced by President Obama, then raced back down the hill when the going got tough. It scrapped its plans for teacher evaluations and a graduation test.

Unfortunately, it appears that Rhode Island, under Gov. Gina Raimondo and Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, has no interest in emulating the best.

The state wants to pursue its own path, with weak and timid reforms that appear unlikely to stir up vested interests committed to the status quo.

This year, Mr. Wagner drove the stake into the heart of a test requirement for graduation, saying “When kids don’t graduate, it has lifelong consequences.” It does not require a Ph.D. in education to understand there are lifelong consequences even more harmful than a lack of a diploma when the public education system fails to prepare students for the real world.

Mr. Wagner wrote on these pages (“The power of teaching, learning, and love,” Commentary, Sept. 1) that “love is the only power that can transform our schools from mere buildings into deep and engaged learning communities.” Massachusetts demonstrated that love is more than simply getting along. Truly caring about students involves tough love.

Ms. Borg explained what Massachusetts was up against with its graduation requirement: “Things turned nasty in 2003. Hundreds of students boycotted the test. School committees threatened to buck the new graduation requirement. A lawsuit in federal court claimed the tests were discriminatory. An effigy of the state education commissioner was burned.”

Massachusetts made some changes to accommodate students who really wanted to put in the effort. “But Massachusetts, unlike Rhode Island, never backed away from tying graduation to the test.”

Massachusetts has not stopped its quest to improve public education. After establishing a strong foundation, it is considering expanding charter schools (a measure on the ballot this year strenuously supported by Gov. Charlie Baker and opposed by special interests) and looking for other ways to close the gap between performance in rich and poor communities.

Rhode Island, by contrast, seems determined to give schools that help poor and minority students a hard time. It passed legislation this year - signed by Governor Raimondo, sadly - that makes it virtually impossible to create new mayoral academies, though the existing ones have done a magnificent job educating students from some of the poorest neighborhoods in the state.

Governor Raimondo recently set a goal that 75 percent of Rhode Island students must be reading at grade level by 2025, up from this year’s 40 percent. We find it encouraging that she has set goals, rather than stick with Mr. Wagner’s rather amorphous appeals to “love.” But she must enlist the support of the entire state in this mission, since 2025 will come well after the end of her second term, should she seek and win one.

We believe the state would be best served by mimicking as much as possible the firmness, high standards and tough love of the Massachusetts system. Certainly, Rhode Island cannot thrive economically, producing the workforce needed in the 21st century and attracting entrepreneurs, until it makes its public schools much stronger.




The (Barre-Montpelier) Times Argus (Vt.), Oct. 26, 2016

One of the questions to be answered after the election is how the Republican Party will reconstitute itself in the wake of Donald Trump.

It appears that Trump is headed to defeat by a margin either large or historically large. He will leave in ruins a party deeply divided between its establishment wing and an unruly, angry Tea Party wing that had used Trump to hijack the party. For Republicans there is some history to consider.

Twice in the past 50 years unsuccessful wars have wreaked havoc on the parties that started the wars. Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Party paid the price for the Vietnam War, fragmenting into the establishment wing of Hubert Humphrey and the progressive anti-war wing of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. The wrecked Democratic Party enjoyed a brief comeback in the post-Watergate election of Jimmy Carter, but with that exception, the Democrats thrashed about in the wilderness from 1968 to 1992.

The Iraq War has wrought similar damage on the Republican Party. The war was divisive and costly, and it thrust the nation into a dark world of officially sponsored torture, domestic spying and vast incompetence. The wreckage of the war was compounded by the disaster of the financial collapse and the Great Recession, and when the administration of George W. Bush ended, it was in shambles.

The establishment wing of the party was a shell of itself. John McCain ran for president in 2008, but he felt compelled to name Sarah Palin as his running mate. She became the darling of the rising Tea Party movement, an angry anti-government rebellion that gradually began to consume leaders of the party. One by one, the so-called Freedom Caucus trundled GOP House leaders off to the ideological guillotine, as the Tea Party revolution grew more extreme.

Michael Gerson, a speechwriter for George W. Bush, became a refugee from politics, taking up duties as a columnist for The Washington Post. He has offered an astute analysis of the Republican dilemma.

The party has always been divided between the intellectual elite surrounding William F. Buckley and the nationalistic populism represented by Pat Buchanan and Sarah Palin. Gerson said Bush, at least for a time, had straddled the divide within the party. He favored immigration reform, and he pushed education reform through No Child Left Behind. He had an activist foreign policy, seen not just in his catastrophic war, but in the major international effort he led to combat HIV/AIDS.

The Tea Party wing that connects Trump to Buchanan and Palin has no use for immigration reform or appreciation for education, science, facts or knowledge. For them climate change is a hoax. Trump combines a desire to demonstrate toughness with a Buchanan-like isolationism, evidence of the incoherence that characterizes his entire candidacy.

The William F. Buckley intellectual tradition may best be embodied by David Brooks of The New York Times, who loathes Trump. For the Republicans to bridge the gap between the conservatism of Brooks and the alienated workers of Ohio, West Virginia and Louisiana is a tall order. In Gerson’s view, someone following Bush’s lead (without the catastrophic war) might have the best chance. He argues for a revival of what Bush called compassionate conservatism. In the year of Trump, compassion has more or less been driven out of the party. Bush himself had already helped to drive it out by going to what Dick Chency called “the dark side.”

The post-Lyndon Johnson years gave us two terms of Ronald Reagan, who set the tone for George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The post George W. Bush years gave us two terms of Barack Obama, who, like Reagan, is leaving office with popularity intact. Obama has set the tone for what is to follow, most likely one or two terms of Hillary Clinton.

The Republicans, meanwhile, face the same job that the Democrats faced after Lyndon Johnson, charting a new course not founded on lies. The danger is that someone from the angry Trumpian wing will decide that the best solution is to lie with greater skill. The election is not the end of the story.




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