- Associated Press - Saturday, September 10, 2016

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

Record-Journal (Conn.), Sept. 9, 2016

Fifteen years ago, everything changed when a small group of fanatics took control of three large passenger jets and used them as guided missiles against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The fourth plane was almost certainly headed for either the White House or the Capitol building when a few heroic passengers stormed the cockpit. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

In the past few days, many of us have seen special television coverage of that catastrophic attack on this country, which took 2,977 lives, and perhaps the only surprise is how vivid and painful it is to watch, still, all these years later. It’s almost as if we’re going through it for the first time.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve spent about a trillion dollars on homeland security. We tripled the FBI budget, as well as the number of airport screeners, who are also better trained now. We spent tens of billions of dollars for a communication system for first responders that’s already obsolete. We spent more tens of billions to provide high-tech gear to small communities. Just mention terrorism, and the money flows from Washington.

The long answer is yes, according to many who should know. More billions have been spent on enhanced security in places where it really counts- like New York City -and on improved intelligence. We are safer against a carefully planned attack like 9/11, carried out by a highly organized group like al-Qaida, according to Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor who became the first director of the Department of Homeland Security, because such groups can be monitored and targeted.

In addition, the Pentagon and the CIA continue to attack the so-called Islamic State, which sponsors terror attacks from time to time but is more successful at inspiring “lone-wolf” terrorists, both here and abroad.

“I don’t know if we quite understand yet, as a country, that the scourge of terrorism, which at the time seemed to be confined to a particular profile and a particular terrorist group in a particular region, is now a permanent condition,” Ridge recently told the Erie Times-News.

“Now you have (ISIS, or ISIL, or Islamic State). They don’t recruit. They take anybody that walks in the front door.” They use social media to radicalize vulnerable people and inspire them to carry out mass killings on their own, Ridge said. It is unlike anything national security officials have seen before.

“It is impossible to prevent all lone-wolf attacks,” Ridge said. “I think we need to understand that.”

“You have to worry about all the marginal, stupid people that ISIL may motivate here,” FBI Director James Comey told The Atlantic, for a story in the current issue that goes into these matters at great length. Unlike during the Cold War, when the great powers could rely on their nuclear arsenals to deter each other from launching an attack, our terrorist enemies today have little to lose. We continue to fight them where they hold territory, thousands of miles away, but the inspired fanatic who’s happy to die for the cause on the streets of Orlando or San Bernardino is almost impossible to stop.

“We’ve made progress,” the Atlantic article concludes, but we need to adjust- “politically and psychically” -to a “new normal” in which deterrence doesn’t work.

But are we any safer today?

The short answer is yes- a spectacular, complicated operation like 9/11 is probably much less likely to be successful today. But the lone-wolf attack is still a menace, and it could happen almost anywhere. We just have to live with it.

And Ridge warns of another threat, the threat that fear of a terrorist attack will lead us to surrender some of our civil liberties.

“We’ve got better coordination, said Ridge. “We’re doing everything we can to make us safer, and we have to continue to do that, but we don’t have to go any further right now or come close to the line of stepping into our private lives.”

Words to the wise.




The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Sept. 6, 2016

Maine, along with every other state not named Pennsylvania, reports an ongoing and growing shortage of special education teachers.

In some ways, solutions mirror those for the same problem facing the teaching profession as a whole- such as the use of financial incentives to draw talented people into the profession.

But in other, very significant ways, the dearth of special educators is its own dilemma, fitting for a group of teachers who often feel separated from the rest of the school staff.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the shortage of special education teachers has been an issue since at least the early 1990s. Today, 49 states report a shortage; broken down further, 51 percent of all school districts and 90 percent of high-poverty districts don’t have enough special educators.

It doesn’t help that the overall pool of candidates is shrinking. In Maine and elsewhere, colleges and universities are awarding fewer education degrees.

The number of education graduates in the University of Maine System, for instance, dropped 36 percent in a decade, and Maine is experiencing teacher shortages in eight different areas of instruction, up from just two- including special education -in the early 1990s.

The shortage of special education teachers, however, is especially acute. School officials throughout the state told the Portland Press Herald recently that hiring this year was harder than ever, and it’s fixing to get harder.

Maine has always allowed teachers to cover special education for up to three years while they work toward certification. Starting next year, all special education teachers will be required to be fully certified, a rule that will affect more than 5 percent of Maine special educators.

That, along with the fact that 30 percent of Maine teachers are expected to retire in the next decade, makes it necessary that Maine address this problem now.

There have been some gains. State education officials, helped by a federal grant, have cut the percentage of special ed teachers without certification by more than half in the last six years, and the number of special ed teachers is up almost 20 percent in that time.

But it’s clearly not enough. The number of special education students in Maine is falling, but not as fast as enrollment overall. And the students are presenting more complicated issues than ever before, educators say.

That has made special education, an enormous responsibility and challenge on its best day, even more so.

Special education work is complex and stressful. It requires challenging interactions with students and parents. Educators are required to formulate long, detailed education plans for students. They often oversee education technicians and other specialists.

And then there is the enormous amount of paperwork that must be completed, often after work, the only part of the day when there is time.

Those aspects of the job, and its place slightly outside the normal school structure, can leave special education teachers feeling forgotten.

What’s more, special education is often an entry-level job, filled with recent college graduates who are waiting to move on to a regular staff position.

For all these reasons, turnover in special education is twice the rate of other teaching positions.

Financial incentives such as loan forgiveness, higher pay and free certification- all ideas being considered to address the shortage -can help draw people to special education, but it won’t make enough of them stay once the difficult days begin.

To retain more special education teachers, a culture change is needed. First, teachers have to be fully prepared for the circumstances and stresses unique to special education; then they have to be fully integrated into the greater school environment.

Their contribution has to be understood and recognized by administrators and the rest of the staff, all of whom should have a working knowledge of how special education differs from regular instruction, improving the collaborative and co-working environment.

Only when special education is a valued and fully mainstreamed part of schools will enough teachers choose this difficult but rewarding path.




Cape Cod Times (Mass.), Sept. 10, 2016

Almost everyone who needs a prescription medicine has at one point or another experienced the sense of sticker shock that comes with a new script, especially if the particular medication does not have a generic equivalent. The patient is then faced with the quandary of declining medical care or finding a way to pay for it, regardless of the cost.

So when people who rely on EpiPens, the preferred delivery system of a medication designed to stave off potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reactions, saw the price skyrocket during the past few years, it likely came as little surprise. In fact, what may be most surprising is that the question of cost quickly became a political issue, with even presidential hopefuls weighing in on the matter.

The jump in EpiPen costs has been spread over nine years, with the two-pack price leapfrogging from $100 to $600 during that time. According to at least one medical professional, the active drug, the generic epinephrine, is relatively inexpensive. In fact, one Cape Cod Hospital employee put the price of an injection at less than $5.

Instead, it is the convenient delivery method that patients are paying for. The pharmaceutical company Mylan owns the patent on the EpiPen system, and can basically charge whatever it wants for it, doing so in the full knowledge that patients and their insurance companies have little choice but to pony up, regardless of how exorbitant the price may be.

For its part, Mylan has deferred blame to the overall health care system with an amorphous charge that insurance companies have, in essence, shifted the costs of medications onto their patients. It simultaneously began a public relations volley to staunch criticism, announcing a coupon to cover up to $300 of the drug’s out-of-pocket cost, as well as a plan to expand a patient assistance program that helps eliminate such costs for uninsured and underinsured patients. It is also providing free pens to schools.

All of this is, of course, good news for patients and school systems across the Cape and beyond. It does not, however, address the underlying question of how a delivery system that was developed years ago now costs six times as much as it did less than a decade ago. If anything, one would expect Mylan to develop economies of scale and production that would hold down, if not lower, costs.

Then there was news this past week from the New York Times that even as Mylan was directly gouging customers, it was also emptying their pockets indirectly through a questionable claim that because epinephrine is a generic drug, it can only offer a reduced discount to state Medicaid programs. In essence, the company is trying to enjoy the benefits of an exclusive product that has no viable competition in the marketplace, all while maintaining with a straight face that it cannot possibly offer any substantive deal to state-run programs because it is a generic drug.

The revelation has prompted several lawmakers to call for a wider investigation to determine if Medicaid is being fleeced by other drug manufacturers seeking to expand profits at the expense of taxpayers.

At the same time, public anger over the moves by Mylan to shore up its profits continues to grow, even as the company, under the guidance of CEO Heather Bresch, continues to maintain it has done nothing wrong. In fact, it recently announced that it intends to introduce a generic version of the EpiPen for $300. In the press release announcing the move, Bresch was quoted as saying that “ensuring access to medicine is absolutely the core of Mylan’s mission and has been since our founding 55 years ago.”

This is the sort of generic pharmaceutical industry palaver that demonstrates that there is no monopoly when it comes to spouting empty platitudes, even as stockholders smile over growing dividends. Politicians and the public should therefore look toward new restrictions on an industry that seems quite comfortable jettisoning the Hippocratic Oath for one that embraces hypocrisy instead.




Concord Monitor (N.H.), Sept. 9, 2016

Last week, in Nashua, the mother of 3-year-old Brielle Gage was found guilty of beating her to death. In Manchester, another mother stands accused of killing her 21-month-old daughter, Sadie Willott, who died of blunt impact head injuries. The state’s Division for Children, Youth and Families, charged with protecting children from abuse and neglect, had been involved with both families. Yet, two helpless little girls are gone. Why?

In the aftermath, Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Executive Council committed $223,000- $96,000 of that in general funds -for a nationally known consulting firm, the Center for the Support of Families, to conduct an independent review of DCYF practices. Since April, the review team has held face-to-face interviews with state child protection workers, court-appointed guardians, foster parents and juveniles in the system. They have pulled 100 DCYF case files at random for review and sent surveys to educators, health care providers, parents and guardians. They were scheduled to meet with the police in Manchester and Nashua to talk about the Willott and Gage cases, and more broadly about DCYF.

The strict confidentiality rules on abuse and neglect cases protect young victims, but that secrecy runs head on into the public’s justifiable demand for more transparency at DCYF. The outside review is a good response, but temporary. Lawmakers should give serious consideration to a proposal for a new Office of the Child Advocate- used successfully in Massachusetts -which would have independent authority to review the child protection system, and enhance public confidence in DCYF.

The state Supreme Court last month opened the door, a crack, on the confidentiality issue, when it cleared the way for public filing of a civil lawsuit against DCYF and others. Details of the child sexual abuse and neglect case underlying the lawsuit must remain confidential, the court said, but the claims of alleged failures by child protective services- including DCYF -can be part of the public record.

Meanwhile, we hope the ongoing outside review generates some honest, independent feedback, especially from the many child-protection workers at DCYF, who are working hard at a very difficult job. We trust the independent review process is far enough away from the governor’s office, and from the Department of Health and Human Services, of which DCYF is a part, to get at the facts, and the truth, whatever that may be.

Most importantly, we expect the reviewers to address the heart of the matter, which DCYF director, Lorraine Bartlett identified in a report in January. New assignments for New Hampshire child protection workers exceed the standard in 20 other states, Bartlett said. She has cited a 17 percent increase in protective investigations in four years, but no increase in staff. Unmanageable caseloads impact child safety, lead to burnout, “decision fatigue” and high staff turnover, which reached 50 percent from 2013-15, she wrote.

“High turnover has significant impact on the agency’s ability to effectively manage the work and caseload, and ultimately sustain best outcomes for children and families,” she said.

The independent review team’s final report is expected before their contract expires on Dec. 31. By that time, Gov. Hassan, who is running for the U.S. Senate, will be on her way out of the State House and a new governor- and Legislature -will be responsible for acting on the review’s findings.

In Tuesday’s primary election, voters will select the Republican and Democratic candidates for the corner office. You don’t need to wait for a report to ask the candidates how they plan to protect New Hampshire’s children from abuse, and neglect, and murder. Find out now for Brielle and Sadie and for the sake of all the other children in this state whose safety is threatened- by their own parents.




The Providence Journal (R.I.), Sept. 7, 2016

An NFL quarterback’s decision to sit down during the national anthem has irritated many Americans, though many in the media have applauded him for it. Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers said he was doing so as a symbolic protest against injustice in America.

“I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change, and when there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand,” he said.

He added: “There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and (no one is) being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.” Kaepernick has worn socks on the field depicting police officers as pigs.

The knee-jerk reaction was to wonder what he is complaining about. This fabulously wealthy 28-year-old makes about $19 million a year as a backup quarterback, part of a six-year, $114 million deal, on top of receiving adulation few mortals ever experience.

He lives in a country where tremendous strides against racism have been made and where minorities enjoy boundless opportunities to get ahead, even to rise to the White House. And he lives under a Constitution that- from the standpoint of law, at least -guarantees each citizen freedom, justice and self-government. This Constitution was defended, and rendered more perfect, at the price of terrible sacrifice and bloodshed, and it embodies a form of governance that Abraham Lincoln aptly described as “the last best hope of Earth.” That is one reason Americans tend to honor the flag.

Still, we join with those who say Kaepernick has every right to use his prominence to make a statement, even if he does represent a corporate entity. It is in society’s interest that citizens enjoy a wide range of speech, with a right to express opinions about political issues without being demoted, fired or blacklisted. There may be limits to this, of course. Police officers, for example, may not be permitted the latitude a famous athlete has, since their public statements are taken to represent the values of the force.

Moreover, Kaepernick’s protest draws attention to a vitally important issue: the use of police powers, and whether justice in America is being administered fairly, with the same standards applied to the powerful as to the weak. It seems clear that in many cases it is not.

For a number of reasons, far too many black American men wind up dead or imprisoned. We must work together to find a different path through education and opportunity.

This work will require more than symbolic protests. We will have to communicate with each other, rather than simply shouting at each other. Police do seem to be doing a much better job in reaching out to the communities they serve. Citizens should strive to read up about the challenges police face in neighborhoods plagued by guns and violence, and search for facts rather than merely mouth slogans.

Mutual respect and open communication are essential to moving forward. Which is why Kaepernick should not be shouted down.




The Rutland Herald (Vt.), Sept. 8, 2016

Hillary Clinton is contending with a double standard that is about more than gender. Because she has a record of accomplishment- as first lady, senator and secretary of state -the public expects a high standard of success from her. Every deviation from excellence is subject to scrutiny. Every failing is magnified.

The bar for Donald Trump is low- probably lower than for any candidate ever. That’s because he has no record of success, except in amassing money and in becoming a TV personality. He has no record of public service and has given no indication that he has any knowledge of or interest in the issues he would have to contend with as president. Thus, when he manages to perform in a manner that is not egregiously offensive, he passes that lowest of bars. When he manages to read a 10-point plan off of a TelePrompTer, he is said to be acting presidential.

Acting is the operative word.

This double standard distorts the way the news media present the candidates to the voters. Because Donald Trump is demonstrably corrupt, he has adopted the strategy of calling Clinton corrupt. Thus the foundation set up by the Clintons to channel millions of dollars to charitable work around the world has become subject to the minutest scrutiny, and any associations Hillary Clinton may have had within anyone connected to the money raised by the foundation come under the shadow of suspicion. Yet no one has shown actual corruption.

The bar from Trump is far lower. The man who flings the charge of corruption has been sued for chiseling students at the phony Trump University and stiffing contractors who worked for him. Lately it has been shown that he gave a sizable donation to the attorney general of Florida who quickly decided not to pursue corruption charges against him. The man who shouts about corruption is demonstrably corrupt.

The question of the double standard is especially important on the topic of foreign affairs, which lately has become an issue in the campaign. Trump’s outrageous and ignorant statements have alarmed our allies around the world and persuaded scores of foreign policy practitioners in this country, Republican and Democratic, that he is woefully unprepared to be president. He is either oblivious to, unconcerned by- or delighted with -the efforts of Russian groups to hack into our election organizations and to sow doubts about the democratic process itself.

The connection between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin is often viewed almost as a joke- two boastful tough guys carrying on a comical bromance. How funny.

And yet Putin’s geopolitical strategy is all about undermining faith in democracy in Europe and the United States and dividing the Western alliance. Europe is a powerful economic and political force on Russia’s western border. If it grows weaker through internal disarray, Russia becomes relatively stronger. Trump’s statements suggesting he would abandon our allies- Estonia and Poland are paying attention -play into Putin’s hand. The economic pain Russia has felt because of sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine is real. If Trump were to abandon the cause of Ukraine, Russia would grower stronger, and our allies in Eastern Europe would be vulnerable.

Trump’s foolishness on foreign affairs is tallied against Clinton’s so-called failure to prevent mob violence in Benghazi, Libya, when she was secretary of state. Eleven hours of testimony before Congress showed no misdeeds by Clinton. Her email procedures were careless, but they were not on a par with the potential betrayal of the Baltic states and the rest of Ukraine.

Liberals get squeamish about Clinton. They say, with a frown, they just don’t like her. The best response is: So what? This election is not about electing a pal to the White House, not about picking someone we “like.” It is about choosing someone who can act as steward of American interests, with knowledge, experience, commitment and dedication to the public interest. Rated on the same standard, Trump is not even close. He has served only himself, and his scorn for our system and people makes him the most extreme outlier ever to run for the office.




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