- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

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

(Meriden) Record-Journal (Conn.), Jan. 4, 2017

Republican congressmen made a troubling move on Monday, voting in a private meeting to severely weaken the House’s independent ethics panel one day before the new GOP-led Congress was set to get to work.

Republicans sought to make the non-partisan Office of Congressional Ethics subject to oversight by the House Ethics Committee, which is run by lawmakers, the very people the Office of Congressional Ethics is meant to police.

So much for an independent panel.

Also, per the GOP plan, the Office of Congressional Ethics was to be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, and that panel would be blocked from investigating misconduct that occurred prior to 2011. Also, the release of findings to the public by the Office of Congressional Complaint Review would not be allowed without the authorization of the House Ethics Committee.

Supporters of Donald Trump certainly did not have this kind of change in mind when they cast a ballot to “drain the swamp” in Washington D.C., a favorite campaign promise of the soon-to-be president.

Democrats, various watchdog groups and average Americans promptly, and rightly, blasted the House GOP’s move to de-fang the Office of Congressional Ethics, launched in 2008 after several members of Congress were convicted of crimes, and jailed.

Even the Republican president-elect voiced his displeasure with the move, tweeting: “With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it … may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!”

On Tuesday, House Republicans, hearing the rumblings of a political storm, dropped plans to tinker with the independent ethics panel.

While we’re pleased that the Office of Congressional Ethics will continue to do the important work it was created to do, it’s extremely troubling that House Republicans ever had this entity in their crosshairs in the first place.

This is not a great start for the 115th Congress.




The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Jan. 3, 2017

Alzheimer’s disease is our most expensive illness, costing an estimated $236 billion last year, including nearly 1 in every 5 dollars spent through Medicare.

It is also one of our most devastating, ripping from seniors the precious memories of their long lives, and taking from friends and family members the person they knew. For all involved, it makes the final months or years before death excruciatingly sad and painful.

The only way to lessen that pain and enormous cost- estimated to rise to $735 billion in Medicare and Medicaid expenditures alone by 2050, overwhelming those programs -is through research, and while the United States has made great strides in this area, there still is more to do.

The clock is ticking, however. Roughly 5.2 million Americans now have Alzheimer’s; that number is expected to rise to 14 million by 2050. And that doesn’t include the millions of people caring for someone with the disease, often sacrificing their own health and well-being.

The options for treatment now are scarce. While medications can help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s in some patients, it is the only disease among the top 10 causes of death that we are not able to truly treat, prevent or cure.

To make that a thing of the past, advocates say the United States must dedicate $2 billion a year to Alzheimer’s research. We are halfway there, thanks to efforts by advocates and lawmakers such as Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the Senate co-chairwoman of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, a group she helped organize more than a decade ago.

In 2010, Collins introduced the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which set up a national plan to solve Alzheimer’s, with the goal of treating and preventing the disease by 2025. President Obama signed it into law in 2011.

Last year, an additional $350 million was added to federal funding for Alzheimer’s research, bring the total to $991 million.

There has also been legislation to help caregivers, including the Collins-sponsored RAISE Family Caregivers Act, which passed the Senate unanimously and awaits further action. It would coordinate existing resources to help family caregivers dealing with all types of health issues.

The Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Act, also introduced by Collins, would provide grants to organizations that train and support caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients.

That is a key part of the fight against Alzheimer’s. For every person with the disease, there are more who are by their side, often at great cost to their own finances and mental health. Supporting these caregivers not only lessens the toll on them, but also keeps patients in their homes longer, far reducing the cost of care.

These initiatives have enjoyed broad, bipartisan support. That must continue- the cost of stopping now is just too high.




The Standard-Times (Mass.), Jan. 1, 2017

We tend to walk into new years like walking through doors, moving from one room to another, just like we walk from June to July, Monday to Tuesday, winter to spring, daytime to nighttime.

But the paths of our lives don’t really follow straight lines. We may try to put our various, perpetual journeys- such as from youth to age - onto chronological charts, but our journeys are not linear.

A recent cartoon in the New Yorker of two folks in a private library was captioned: “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it, while those who do study history are doomed to stand around helplessly while everyone else repeats it.”

No, we run great risks when we ignore what has been past, and pretend that the present is divorced from it.

Consider the past that has created our present, and, as far as 2017 is concerned, our near future:

Climate change has upended our weather.

Social media has upended our privacy.

Guns have upended our tranquility.

Addiction has upended our domestic fabric.

Politics has upended our media.

People continue to make affirming choices, rejecting pessimism and divisions. People continue to recognize that stable social structure is necessary to a broad access of the benefits of life and the pursuit of happiness.

Our culture, energy policy, interaction with media, approach to medicine and pain management, embrace of consumerism and other modern phenomena push us along a meandering path away from personal and domestic peace. Our lives grow in complexity, and every human interaction we forgo requires another individual demand upon the intellectual capacity needed to make sense of it, or pretend the issues aren’t as big as we think.

Certainly, just as we say morality can’t be legislated, the law can do no more than encourage a sense of community, civil discourse, or altruism. Yet they are all necessary to the continued good conduct of civil life, and their exercise requires adherence to a personal law- character -upon which any virtuous law would have to be built upon.

2017 will be unlike any other time in history. For America, no family escapes the impact of guns, opioids and traffic accidents. We can’t walk through this calendar like it’s a clean slate. We can no longer pretend that the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s or 2000s were the best of times. Our imperfect today couldn’t have arisen had it not been built upon an imperfect yesterday.

Without a doubt, the many things today’s America gets right are here because they’ve been built on firmer, ancient principles such as compassion, honesty, service, justice.

So, no, there is no such thing as a clean slate, but it’s just as well.

A clean slate is conducive not to peace for the forgiven, but to emotional servitude …; to fear rather than growth. It purports to be the vessel of mercy, but merely weakens the spirit of those who know their failures.

A clean slate encourages forgetfulness, not learning, a dulling of responsibility akin to Polonius’ advice to be not a borrower, lest it dull the edge of husbandry.

A clean slate brushes away responsibility, rather than correcting and rebuilding.

Let’s walk into 2017 not over the same path, not with a clean slate, but with eyes that see the sights of the new year without forgetting what’s past. Walk with feet that dare to step onto new paths, but that remember well the feeling of solid ground, the feeling of shifting sands, the feeling of crossing ice-covered streams.

Let’s walk into the new year knowing there are new people to meet and that the only way to understand them is to talk, to be vulnerable, to resist fear; to remember how outreach, vulnerability and trepidation contribute to stronger, not weaker, relationships.




The Providence Journal (R.I.), Jan. 1, 2017

India is the world’s second biggest country, with nearly 1.3 billion people. It has also boasted the fastest-growing economy on the planet over the last two years- thanks, in part, to recent reductions in energy costs. It seems to be poised economically to become the next China. Investment from U.S. companies in India increased by 500 percent over the past two years, to $4.2 billion.

But even the world’s largest democratic nation (by population) still has plenty of room for improvement. The country has been hurt badly by political corruption, judicial activism, and unhelpful regulations. Businesses have had to pay off bureaucrats to operate. Individuals lack the strong rights they enjoy in Western democracies.

Some had hoped that all this would change under the watchful eye of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the pro-free market, fiscally conservative Bharatiya Janata Party, who were elected in May 2014 with a huge majority government.

But they’re still waiting.

The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, released this October, ranked India 66th out of 113 countries. Six different factors, including “absence of corruption,” ”open government” and “order and security,” are used as measuring sticks. (As a point of comparison, Denmark is ranked first, Germany is sixth, the United Kingdom is 10th, Japan is 15th- and the United States sits at 18th.)

There were improvements in the areas of “open government” and “constraints on government powers.” But India did poorly in “order and security,” thanks to high levels of crime and political violence, and a failure to protect “fundamental rights.”

India ranks 130th in a World Bank index measuring the burden of regulations on small firms. It moved up just four spots from 2015. While it seems to be over-regulating business, it is under-regulating environmental protection, leading to egregious pollution, especially in the air. This poor country also faces tremendous challenges in developing its transportation and energy infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing economy.

Modi and the BJP have also struggled in other areas.

India’s economy was expected to grow by 7.8 percent between October and December- a whopping number, by American standards. But that has been scaled back to around 6.5 percent.

Moody’s, meanwhile, has criticized Modi’s demonetization strategy to remove 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, which composed more than 85 percent of the nation’s legal tender, out of the currency market altogether. That was designed to help the country crack down on black markets, but it has left many Indians without cash to conduct business, something that has restrained the country’s growth.

Moody’s warns that this could lead to defaults among small- and medium-sized businesses, exacerbating the country’s big problem with debt and the precarious condition of its banks.

Modi’s government has, to its credit, reduced dependency on government programs, relaxed foreign ownership restrictions, and cut bureaucratic tape over the past two years. It finally received parliamentary approval of its long-awaited goods and service tax to simplify the country’s onerous tax process.

Unfortunately, the BJP has also protected many publicly-controlled industries. The state’s role in health care has increased. And corporate profits and consumer spending levels haven’t nearly reached their full potential.

“Modi has turned out to be more of an economic policy tinkerer than the radical reformer some optimists had expected,” The Wall Street Journal said in a news story last May.

As the world increasingly becomes one giant market, it becomes clearer which countries will thrive. They are those with a strong rule of law, individual rights and a culture that encourages innovation. Powerful interests able to sway governments and mindless regulations make it harder for any country, or state, to compete.

Since the rule of law, individual rights and robust market economies tend to alleviate poverty and lift the world, we hope Modi finds success in his quest to transform India.




The Concord Monitor (N.H.), Jan. 4, 2017

Among the celebrity disasters during the final 24 hours of 2016, Mariah Carey’s bewildering performance on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve was certainly the most talked about. But a close second was this tweet from Donald Trump: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

Trump is dedicated to periodically using Twitter to fire up his base, and this tweet was for them. As of Tuesday afternoon, Trump’s stick-it-to-‘em had collected 345,000 “likes” and 142,000 retweets. It also elicited 82,000 replies, but plenty of those were from people who are not exactly supportive of the president-elect or his childish tweet. There were expletives involved- a lot of them.

But the base eats it up. Trump’s enemies- journalists, liberals, purveyors of political correctness -are their enemies, and the Make America Great Again (hashtag MAGA) crowd couldn’t be happier to watch a real-time, Trump-style smackdown. That is, one delivered 140 characters at a time and clumsily.

Sixteen hours later, at the stroke of midnight, Donald “Me Against the World” Trump handed over his Twitter account to Donald “Serious American President” Trump, who tweeted: “TO ALL AMERICANS- #HappyNewYear & many blessings to you all! Looking forward to a wonderful & prosperous 2017 as we work together to #MAGA.” He even appended an emoji of Old Glory to underscore his “one nation, under God” bipartisan spirit.

Only Team Trump knows which of these polar-opposite tweets came from the heart (although we have a guess), but America should get used to the dueling personalities.

On New Year’s Day, Slate posted a story headlined, “Trump doesn’t plan to ease off Twitter once he is sworn in as president.” Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, put it this way: “There’s a new sheriff in town. Absolutely you’re going to see Twitter.” Spicer went on to say that the mainstream media is “freaking out” because Trump has 45 million Twitter followers, which means he can talk to the American people directly, without “funneling” information through journalists. We bet that once the honeymoon ends, Trump will realize the problem with using Twitter as a primary method of communication. And the honeymoon will end.

Trump posted this two-part tweet regarding House Republicans’ efforts late Monday night to quietly kill off the Office of Congressional Ethics: “With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it … may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!” Trump may have seen the effort by rank-and-file Republicans to weaken oversight of congressional corruption as a threat to his campaign catchphrase of “drain the swamp,” and so he found himself on the same side of the issue as House Democrats. When House Republicans later backed off their plan to gut the ethics office Tuesday, it must have been at least a little bittersweet for those whose love of Trump is rivaled only by their hatred of Democrats.

As Trump gets down to the unglamorous job of actually governing, attention to his Twitter account will ebb and flow. When he needs to explain to his biggest cheerleaders why he has broken this or that campaign promise or joined with the despised “elite,” the true limitations of 140 characters will become clear.

Until then, Americans will have to get used to watching Trump’s angels and demons fight it out on Twitter- as the social media crowd roars.




The Brattleboro Reformer (Vt.), Jan. 2, 2017

While the worst of criminals are still occasionally given the death penalty, deaths are actually becoming increasingly less common. The argument for pursuing the death penalty is undermined as a result.

Today in South Carolina, federal prosecutors will begin trying to persuade jurors that 22-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, who gunned down nine parishioners in Charleston’s Mother Emanuel church, should receive the death sentence. Mr. Roof has been convicted of federal hate crimes for an act he has acknowledged was done in the hope of inciting a race war.

The killings on June 17, 2015 were horrific and prosecutors did a convincing job of showing they were pre-meditated. Roof fired his lawyers, apparently because they wanted to present an insanity defense and their client insists he is of sound mind and did what needed to be done. “I had to do it because somebody had to do something,” he said in his confession. “Black people are killing white people every day on the street and they are raping white women. What I did is so minuscule to what they’re doing to white people every day all the time.”

Roof is clearly a racist and an acknowledged killer. The U.S. Justice Department’s decision to seek the death penalty was opposed, however, by then-U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles on the grounds that pursuing or not pursuing the death penalty should be a local and state decision. This recalls the argument by Massachusetts legal officials that the Justice Department overstepped its authority in pursuing the death penalty for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in 2015. Massachusetts does not have a death penalty, but federal law superseded it. He was given a death sentence and remains jailed.

Tsarnaev was the most recent of 59 federal inmates sentenced to death, according to Bureau of Prisons statistics. But no criminal sentenced to death under federal statutes has been killed since 2003. DNA evidence that rescued innocent people from death row and the disproportionate number of African-Americans given death sentences have combined to slow executions in all but a few unenlightened states.

The U.S. Justice Department may believe it must make a statement in high profile incidents like those in Charlestown and Boston, but politics should not be a factor. Roof merits a life sentenced without possibility of parole, which will deprive him of the opportunity to become a martyr in the unlikely event that he is executed. The same should have applied to Tsarnaev. The death penalty is fading into history, at the federal level and in many states, and the Justice Department shouldn’t be keeping it alive.




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