- Associated Press - Friday, July 20, 2018

Editorials from around New England:

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CONNECTICUT

The Hartford Courant

July 18



A year ago, Hartford’s future was far from certain. The city was on the verge of bankruptcy. Aetna was high-tailing it. The state budget was a mess, and legislators were divided on whether to support the city. Florida’s governor was shamelessly trolling for residents. From afar, things looked bleak indeed. The New York Times wrote: “Very little is going right for this once proud New England capital.”

But the clouds are parting.

There were glimmers, even a year ago, that all was not lost. The University of Connecticut’s downtown branch opened to ballyhoo. Apartments were filling up and old buildings being renovated. The Hartford Yard Goats, in their first year playing minor league baseball in the city, consistently filled Dunkin’ Donuts Park with fans.

And now, a year later, the picture is brighter still, as the city sidestepped many of the predicted calamities.

The planned merger of CVS and Aetna meant the storied insurer would remain in the city after all. CVS officials identified Hartford as a “center of excellence” for the company.

That black eye healed pretty quickly.

As part of its budget, the state agreed to pay Hartford’s bonded debt for years into the future. While some legislators kicked up a fuss, the move had immediate impact.

Moody’s upped the city’s credit rating by 13 notches. Soon after, the three major Hartford insurance companies came through with their pledge to donate $10 million. That inspired Moody’s to award Hartford a credit-positive designation.

It was hoped that the new stability of Hartford’s finances would invite development, or at least not scare developers away. Happily, it seems to be working.

The plan to revitalize Dillon Stadium in the city’s south end is in motion after a sour start. A professional soccer team is coming to the city as anticipated, and with any luck, matches will be underway in the spring.

On the other side of the city, the Hartford Yard Goats continue to draw big crowds to Dunkin’ Donuts Park. As of Wednesday, the Goats’ average attendance this year was the second-highest in the Eastern League.

There’s more good news in the neighborhood surrounding the stadium. The city has selected a developer to pursue the Downtown North project, a crucial component of the master plan for the area that should bring dining, shopping, housing and more.

Meanwhile, work on the Colt factory complex nears completion as renovations are underway on the final major building.

A year ago, Hartford faced a fork in the road. It could have filed for bankruptcy, potentially sending chills through the metro area and pushing developers and businesses away. But, thanks in large part to the efforts of Mayor Luke Bronin, the business community, and the legislature - and, by extension, the generosity of the people of Connecticut - the city seems to be on the right path.

Still, not all is perfect. As former city councilman Mike McGarry pointed out, the neighborhoods outside downtown have serious needs. Shootings are sharply up, sanitation is an issue, and poverty is far too prevalent.

Hartford’s renaissance won’t be complete until all its residents see the kind of prosperity that is dawning downtown. With continued hard work and smart leadership - and renewed attention to its urban problems - the capital city will be proud again.

Online: https://cour.at/2LtuKWQ

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Republican

July 18

Barack Obama hasn’t lost hope. Rather, our nation’s 44th president, who left office just 18 months ago, still believes that we, the people, can create a better tomorrow - but only by continuing to work hard, and together, to achieve our goals.

On the eve of what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, Obama gave a stirring address to a crowd of some 15,000 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Mandela, of course, had been imprisoned for nearly three decades in racially segregated South Africa - apartheid South Africa - before his release in 1990. Four years later, he became South Africa’s first black chief executive.

America’s first African-American president honored Mandela’s legacy even as he endeavored to describe the world as it is today - and how it might be tomorrow.

Obama’s address was in many ways both a celebration of Mandela’s life and a paean to democracy. And he never mentioned his successor by name. There was no need. And doing so would only have sullied the celebration.

Said our nation’s former president:

“Democracy depends on strong institutions, and it’s about minority rights and checks and balances, and freedom of speech and freedom of expression and a free press, and the right to protest and petition the government, and an independent judiciary, and everybody having to follow the law.

“And yes, democracy can be messy, and it can be slow, and it can be frustrating. I know, I promise. … For all its imperfections, real democracy best upholds the idea that government exists to serve the individual and not the other way around. And it is the only form of government that has the possibility of making that idea real.”

Obama’s Tuesday address was his first major speech since he left the White House a year and a half ago. Yes, just a year and a half. Seems like so much longer that he’s been away, doesn’t it?

To have watched Obama’s address, or to listen to it, or to read the text of his speech, one cannot help but feel a great sense of loss for his departure from the national stage. But at the same time, it comes with the joy of remembering what it felt like to have an intelligent, articulate, compassionate man at the helm. And the hope that we’ll have that one day again soon enough.

Obama urged people not to feel that all is lost - no matter how much it may sometimes seem that way.

At the end of his address, quoting Mandela, Obama said:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.”

Though Obama’s presidency didn’t turn out to be all that his supporters had hoped it would be, Obama the man never let us down. He was honorable and decent and fair-minded and provided real hope to so many who for so long had had little reason to have any at all. And it’s well worth recalling that his ascension to power came so very quickly: His first turn on the national stage came when he was keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention, in Boston, in 2004. Just four years later, he became the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer and was elected president.

He knows as well as anyone how quickly, and how dramatically, things can change.

When he talks of retaining hope - and of working hard to build a better, more equitable, more democratic country - Obama is offering a bold vision for those who despair, who fear that the rise of strongmen leaders at home and abroad has marked a turn that will inevitably lead to greater discord, more conflicts, perhaps even another world war. Says Obama: It doesn’t have to be. We have the power to control our own destinies.

It happened in South Africa. And it can happen again in America.

Sure, it’s an audacious notion. It was at the time of our nation’s founding 242 years back. And it remains one today, But, in times like these, it’s the only sound choice.

Online: https://bit.ly/2LAnAQI

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal

July 17

President Donald Trump set off multiple alarm bells Monday when, during a news conference in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin, he waffled over whether he believes his own intelligence agencies or the Russian strongman on the question of Russian government interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denials today,” Mr. Trump said.

That was not exactly a statement that Mr. Putin, a stone-cold thug and former KGB agent, is more credible than U.S. intelligence, but it came close enough that it set off a frenzy of denunciations.

President Barack Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan, now a contributor to CNN, tweeted that President Trump’s performance in the news conference “rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous.”

Even some on the Republican side were dismayed. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime supporter, called on Mr. Trump to clarify, saying his answer was “the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected - immediately.”

Mr. Trump, in short, once again demonstrated his almost unique ability to whip the political world into a lather. He evidently responded this way because he is upset that the Mueller probe, which has clouded his presidency, has continued to drag on without producing evidence of collusion between Russia and his campaign. The proper answer would have been to state that he had discussed the matter with Mr. Putin and told him any tampering is unacceptable.

Reasonable Republicans and Democrats believe the evidence is strong that Russian actors attempted to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, though there is no evidence it changed votes.

Still, declaring Mr. Trump’s news conference to be an impeachable event and a traitorous act seems hyperbolic. Nor is it wrong for a U.S. president to sit down with the leader of Russia.

It is clear that peace is preferable to war between two countries that control 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. There are areas where cooperation would serve U.S. interests, such as limiting the spread of terrorism, restraining the ambitions of Iran, easing the refugee crisis in Syria, discouraging Russia’s foreign adventures and drawing down the nuclear arsenals of both countries.

We probably could not make much progress in those areas were the Trump administration to use the summit as a public platform for attacking Mr. Putin, as some advocated.

Nor is it clear, despite Mr. Trump’s waffling on the intelligence question, that the president is, as Mr. Brennan argued, “wholly in the pocket of Putin.”

For example, strong economic sanctions against Russia remain in place. Mr. Trump has helped to arm Ukrainian forces defending against Russia. He sharply criticized Germany for making a gas pipeline deal that would enrich Russia and make Germany beholden to Mr. Putin. He called on European nations to spend more money on their defense to guard against Russia. None of these positions would thrill the Russian leader.

While engaging in diplomacy with Russia, the United States must remain deeply skeptical of the murderous Mr. Putin and his goals. And while he does not have to openly insult Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump would certainly help himself and his country if he more clearly aligned himself with America in his news conferences.

Online: https://bit.ly/2NtoNtl

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VERMONT

The Times Argus

July 17

Let the confusion begin. And throw in some outrage.

You just glanced at your hospital bill, or your choices for health care coverage? And you tried to make sense of the web that is health care financing in the United States?

Well, it’s not just about doctors, treatment and outcomes. There are significant administrative costs driving the issue as well.

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine used data from 1999 to estimate that about 30 percent of American health care expenditures were the result of administration, about twice what it is in Canada. If the figures hold today, they mean that out of the average of about $19,000 that U.S. workers and their employers pay for family coverage each year, $5,700 goes toward administrative costs.

According to the study, such costs aren’t all bad. Some are tied up in things we may want, such as creating a quality improvement program. Others are for things we may dislike - for example, figuring out which of our claims to accept or reject or sending us bills. Others are just necessary, like processing payments; hiring and managing doctors and other employees; or maintaining information systems.

Like the overall cost of the U.S. health system, its administrative cost alone is No. 1 in the world.

Using data from 2010 and 2011, one study, published in Health Affairs, compared hospital administrative costs in the United States with those in seven other places: Canada, England, Scotland, Wales, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

According to published reports, at just over 25 percent of total spending on hospital care (or 1.4 percent of total United States economic output), American hospital administrative costs exceed those of all the other places. The Netherlands was second in hospital administrative costs: almost 20 percent of hospital spending and 0.8 percent of that country’s GDP.

At the low end were Canada and Scotland, which both spend about 12 percent of hospital expenditures on administration, or about half a percent of GDP, the study found.

Hospitals are not the only source of high administrative spending in the United States. Physician practices also devote a large proportion of revenue to administration. By one estimate, for every 10 physicians providing care, almost seven additional people are engaged in billing-related activities.

It is no surprise then that a majority of American doctors say that generating bills and collecting payments is a major problem. Canadian practices spend only 27 percent of what U.S. ones do on dealing with payers like Medicare or private insurers.

Scholars from Harvard and Duke examined the billing-related costs in an academic medical center. Their study essentially followed bills through the system to see how much time different types of medical workers spent in generating and processing them.

At the low end, such activities accounted for only 3 percent of revenue for surgical procedures, perhaps because surgery is itself so expensive. At the high end, 25 percent of emergency department visit revenue went toward billing costs. Primary care visits were in the middle, with billing functions accounting for 15 percent of revenue, or about $100,000 per year per primary care provider.

The calls in recent years to create a European-style “single-payer” system, in which the government directly pays for every American’s health care, dominated national politics, and could again as we move closer to 2020.

The single-payer model has some strong advantages. It is much simpler for most people - no more insurance forms or related hassles. Employers would no longer be mixed up in providing health-care benefits, and taxpayers would no longer subsidize that form of private compensation. Government experts could conduct research on treatments and use that information to directly cut costs across the system. There still would be administrative costs, however.

The downside is the government’s price tag would be astonishing. When Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed a “Medicare for all” health plan in his presidential campaign, the nonpartisan Urban Institute figured that it would raise government spending by $32?trillion over 10 years, requiring a tax increase so huge that even Sanders did not propose anything close to it.

Single-payer advocates counter that government-run health systems in other developed countries spend much less than the United States does on its complex public-private arrangement. They say that if the United States adopted a European model, it could expand coverage to everyone by realizing a mountain of savings with no measurable decline in health outcomes, in part because excessive administrative costs and profit would be wrung from the system.

A goal still must be universal coverage and cost restraint. The Journal study only further proves that point. But any restraint will come slowly. There are many options short of a disruptive takeover: the government can change how care is delivered, determine which treatments should be covered, control quality at hospitals, drive down drug costs and discourage high-cost health care plans.

Regardless of option, something has got to give.

Online: https://bit.ly/2uPVQ36

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MAINE

Bangor Daily News

July 19

Much attention has recently been focused on the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their parents at the southern U.S. border. The policy, which President Donald Trump ended with an executive order and replaced with a policy of detaining entire families, was meant to deter immigrants from Central and Southern America from coming to the United States.

It is only one of many ways the administration is trying to reduce not only new immigration, but also the population of immigrants already living and working in the United States.

Asylum seekers, who are protected by the U.S. Constitution, have been a particular target for harsh policy changes aimed at shrinking their numbers.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month ruled that escaping gang violence and domestic violence would no longer be considered grounds for seeking asylum in the United States. Sessions reversed an immigration appeals court ruling that had granted asylum to a woman from El Salvador who said she had been emotionally, physically and sexually abused by her husband.

Immigration courts are part of the Department of Justice, not the judicial system, so Sessions can override their decisions.

“An alien may suffer threats and violence in a foreign country for any number of reasons relating to her social, economic, family or other personal circumstances,” Sessions wrote in his ruling. “Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”

This is not how the asylum system is supposed to work, Dree Collopy, a partner at Benach Collopy LLP who is chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s National Asylum and Refugee Liaison Committee, told Forbes last month.

“He disregarded the principle that every asylum case must be carefully considered on its own individual merit and directed adjudicators nationwide to do the same,” Collopy said in an interview.

In effect, Sessions is “inappropriately pre-judging asylum seekers’ claims as not warranting protection” without regard to the facts and evidence presented. “Sessions’ unilateral decision will undoubtedly result in significant numbers of bona fide refugees being returned to the hands of their persecutors,” Collopy said.

Not content to try to keep asylum seekers out of the U.S., Sessions seeks to punish them if they make it here. Earlier this month, he rescinded an Obama-era policy that gave asylum seekers the right to work in the United States. Those seeking asylum are barred from applying for a work permit for five months. Asylum cases can take years to be decided, so working after the initial five months is vital.

Asylum seekers are eligible for some government support programs, but politicians, like Gov. Paul LePage, have sought to restrict such access.

Taking away the ability to work and restricting financial assistance dooms asylum seekers to poverty. Or, as the administration clearly hopes, it discourages them from coming to the United States. This is counterproductive at a time when employers are struggling to find workers to fill jobs.

Sen. Angus King has pushed federal legislation to reduce the work permit waiting period to 30 days. This makes sense.

Closing the door to immigrants seeking to avoid persecution, torture or worse in their home countries does not.

Online: https://bit.ly/2uyY9s6

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

The Nashua Telegraph

July 18

The right to vote is not something to take for granted. It is something to be cherished and exercised by those who have it.

The right to vote is also enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. In the U.S., those at least 18 years of can register to vote. How they vote, quite obviously, is up to them.

Political parties, on the other hand, have no basis in the Constitution. In fact, in his farewell address in 1796, President George Washington warned his audience about “cunning, ambitious and unprincipled” individuals who would seek to consolidate power through political parties.

Therefore, it is quite troubling to see the deeply partisan political divide regarding HB 1264 in New Hampshire. This bill, which Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law Friday, will require all voters to follow all state residency laws.

Specifically, the law will compel voters to obtain a driver’s license or non-driver identification and to register any vehicles in New Hampshire.

Heretofore, out-of-state students attending institutions such as Dartmouth College or the University of New Hampshire could vote in Granite State elections. The law still allows college students to vote in New Hampshire elections, but requires those voters to follow the same residency laws as all people who move to the state.

“House Bill 1264 restores equality and fairness to our elections, and the Supreme Court has ruled the bill is constitutional, while affirming that New Hampshire has a compelling state interest in seeing this bill enacted,” Sununu, a Republican, said shortly after signing the bill.

Meanwhile, Democrats, led by U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, each also former governors, use words such as “egregious,” ”shameful,” and “voter suppression” to describe the new law.

It seems obvious that Democrats believe the law will make it more difficult for them to win elections, while Republicans believe it will help their cause.

We do not believe any law should be enacted for the purpose of helping a political party. If the new law withstands further legal scrutiny and ultimately goes into effect, it must be done in a transparent and fair manner.

The last thing New Hampshire’s election process needs is a law that directly increases the power of the Republican or Democratic parties. The law must be applied only so that it ensures fair elections.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Lxp663

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