Editorials from around New England
Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers:
The (Waterbury) Republican-American (Conn.), April 3, 2017
Pro-life activists/journalists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt face 15 felony charges each in California for . gathering news. Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt did what plainclothes police detectives and many journalists do every day: they misrepresented their intentions in hopes of inducing reluctant sources to talk freely. Then they told the world what was said.
Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt didn’t hurt anyone or steal anything. They were just gathering information they felt the public should know. With a few exceptions – notably, the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board – the mainstream news media seem untroubled by the defendants’ plight. The First Amendment’s promise that "Congress shall make no law . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press" seems not to matter when reporters target an icon of progressivism.
As Planned Parenthood, the twisted face of the abortion industry, surely is.
Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt got Planned Parenthood doctors to talk about selling fetal tissue – the remains of aborted babies – by claiming to be would-be purchasers of the unspeakable material. According to The Associated Press, the defendants "filmed 14 people without permission between October 2013 and July 2015 in Los Angeles, San Francisco and El Dorado counties. One felony count was filed for each person recorded. The 15th was for criminal conspiracy to invade privacy."
Some in the news media undoubtedly would be happy to see the defendants drawn and quartered – a medieval technique for torturing and killing miscreants and enemies of the state; and one that’s chillingly similar to what abortionists do to late-term unborn babies. But there’s a reason the framers of the Constitution addressed the right to freedom of the press so firmly. They knew government suppression of news, once well begun, would never recede.
Nor can it be said credibly that California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, is acting solely in defense of the right to privacy – a right that is not articulated in the Constitution. He’s a Planned Parenthood enthusiast from way back, and the feeling is mutual. He received thousands of dollars from the organization in support of his U.S. House campaigns, dating at least to the late 1990s, and Planned Parenthood was delighted when Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him attorney general last December. "Rep. Becerra is a longtime champion for women’s reproductive rights and health," Cecile Richards, the organization’s president, said. "As a former California deputy attorney general, he understands the importance of a woman’s right to access the full range of health care, including safe, legal abortion."
If Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt had been arrested for, say, surreptitiously videotaping associates of President Trump whispering of conspiracies with Russian spies, mainstream news organizations would be in full throat, full time, in their defense. But the defendants in this case went after a liberal darling, Planned Parenthood, so everyone can hear the crickets. The right to "the freedom of speech, (and) of the press," won’t endure long if the news media continue to apply an ideological filter to the causes they champion.
The (Brunswick) Times Record (Maine), March 31, 2017
"I wouldn’t believe Donald Trump if his tongue were notarized," noted Alair Townsend, former Deputy Mayor of New York in the Ed Koch administration. This line tells truth. Just ask the legions of people who have been conned by Trump over a lifetime of promising much while delivering little — or nothing: stiffed contractors; bamboozled Trump University "students;" flimflammed city officials from NYC and elsewhere; groped women; and, of course, cuckolded former wives.
Let’s now add "duped voters" to the list. A catchy tagline ("Make America Great Again"); brash promises; dog whistle racism; enduring sexism; a charisma-challenged opponent; an outdated electoral college system; and the gullibility of millions of Americans gave the election to this showman. Trump took his game to a new level when he shrewdly convinced white evangelical Christians (81 percent of whom voted for Trump) that overturning Roe vs. Wade — and thereby denying women control over their own bodies — was more important than having someone who actually exemplified Christian values in office.
Many Americans — including well-meaning and thoughtful Trump voters — acknowledged his personal "failings" (to put it mildly) and hoped he would become more "presidential" once in office. After a rocky start, Trump got huge kudos for his address to Congress and a rise in his favorability polls. Some jubilant Republican Congressmen even called it a "home run." It’s a low bar if you label the ability to read words written by someone else without stuttering or falling down a "home run." Incidentally, Trump’s favorability ratings have tumbled down since the speech-induced bump.
Okay, now let’s look at just three areas where Trump’s bravado has come home to roost, exposing the man for what he is (a con man) and isn’t (presidential).
"Drain the Swamp!"
During the campaign, Trump faulted Ted Cruz and, later, Hillary Clinton for being too close to Wall Street, corrupted by the influence of big donors. Once elected, he brought four former Goldman Sachs leaders into his administration in addition to businesspeople who made billions from other endeavors. The message? Con men don’t do consistency.
"I’m a Great Businessman!"
One would think that a "great businessman" would be careful about how he spent the taxpayers’ money. Wrong! It is estimated that having Melania and her son stay in New York costs about $500,000 per day or $182 million per year. Oh, and it costs $3 million for each of Trump’s regular weekly jaunts to his Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida to play golf and hobnob with his fellow billionaires. Trump will have spent more on extra security in his first four months in office than Barack Obama spent in eight years! (I daresay you won’t see those numbers bandied about at Trump rallies or on Fox News.)
"Obamacare is a disaster! We’ll replace it with a beautiful new health plan and everybody will be covered!"
Well, er, not exactly. A review of the Paul Ryan/Donald Trump "health plan" showed that up to 24 million Americans would have lost health insurance under the new "plan." America’s richest citizens wouldn’t have minded, though, as the new plan would have effectively reduced their taxes by an estimated one trillion dollars over the next decade. Happily, the "beautiful" plan succumbed to an early death last week. The dog had caught up with the car; didn’t know what to do; and slinked away with its tail between its legs. Trump said he wanted to forget health care and move on to other issues, such as, bet on it, finding other ways to cut taxes for the rich. So much for empathy; so much for campaign promises.
Okay, the point is made, even without addressing the apparent Russia connection, the huge concerns of America’s allies and Trump’s middle of-the-night tweets, always claiming himself the victim of this or that conspiracy. Even the "Wall Street Journal," the Bible of GOP business leaders for decades, has called Trump out on his lying ways, cautioning that he’s in danger of becoming a "fake president."
Trump is, it’s now clear even to those who wanted to "give him a chance," an obnoxious narcissistic bully who can’t change who he is and always has been: a con man.
The (Worcester) Telegram & Gazette (Mass.), April 2, 2017
In the daily torrent of stories emerging from Washington, D.C., it’s important not to lose sight of the opioid epidemic that continues to ravage the region.
The "As I See It" column on today’s page, by Dr. James L. Baker, movingly describes both the personal and that national tragedy that seemed to come from nowhere and strike so many families. In 2015, overdose deaths rose to more than 52,000 people across the country, much of it driven by both prescription and illicit opioids. That figure is higher than the number killed in car crashes or shootings. Robert N. Anderson, a statistician for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was quoted as saying, "I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this. Certainly not in modern times."
In Massachusetts, the 338 opioid deaths across the state in 2000 grew dramatically starting in 2012, reaching more than 1,500 as of 2015, according to the state Department of Public Health. That’s 22.6 deaths per 100,000 residents. Heroin laced with the far more powerful Fentanyl, an even more potent opioid, helped drive deaths higher. Incredibly, even more deadly potent additives are on the horizon. It’s hard to imagine how many more would have died but were brought back from the brink of death by life-saving treatments of Narcan, something cited by both City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. and District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr.
New efforts in the battle against opioid addiction have cropped up in just the past two weeks.
In Washington, President Trump appointed Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey last week to head a new national opioid commission. Its mission includes assessing the availability of treatment for opioid addiction, assessing the effectiveness of each state’s prescription drug monitoring programs, and identifying best practices for drug-abuse prevention. Massachusetts was the first state in the country early last year to put controls on opioid prescribers that include monitoring and training.
Also this past week, a new nonprofit, RIZE Massachusetts, has risen in the effort to combat addiction. Established with a board of directors representing health-care providers, insurers and workers, RIZE is looking to raise $50 million over three years – with $13 million already committed – to support innovations in overcoming addiction.
On a more combative front, the town of Everett, Washington, filed suit for damages against Purdue Pharma, which introduced and heavily marketed OxyContin. The suit claims that Purdue put profits ahead of people in racking up perhaps $40 billion or more in sales of the drug that played such a major role in this crisis. It claims Purdue knowingly allowed pills to enter the underground market, accusations that Purdue denies. But it’s not the first community to take such action. Earlier this year, at least three communities in West Virginia, the hardest-hit state, filed suits against multiple distributors, claiming they didn’t do enough to keep the pills from getting into the wrong hands. Massachusetts was among a number of states in 2007 that settled claims against Purdue. The state collected nearly $950,000 from Purdue for failure to disclose abuse and addiction risks – Worcester was among communities receiving up to $100,000 in grants – and an additional $8 million for claims under Medicaid. Given how early it came and the toll to come, the totals now seem paltry.
The epidemic did not come from nowhere. A year ago we traced its roots to two developments roughly 20 years ago. Purdue introduced and heavily marketed OxyContin as an extended-release version of oxycodone for chronic pain management, claiming it was safer than immediate-release narcotic pain relievers. Ten years later, Purdue and three top officials would plead guilty to criminal misbranding and pay fines of $600 million over false claims downplaying its addictive nature. And in medical practice, pain became the "fifth vital sign," checked in routine appointments along with blood pressure and temperature, that led to overprescribing.
These helped spawn a crisis that will take more than a village, in fact an entire nation, to get under control.
Foster’s Daily Democrat (N.H.), April 2, 2017
The majority of congressional Republicans and Democrats continue to view politics as a zero sum game. Every battle needs to have a winner and a loser and efforts to achieve consensus and compromise are viewed as signs of weakness.
It is no wonder both the House and Senate approval ratings remain near historic lows.
The American people are not fools and they see that whatever it is that Congress does when it is in session, it is certainly not working to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.
With the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in desperate need of improvements and the failure of a replacement health care bill proposed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump, we think it’s time to resurrect the quaint notion of our elected federal officials working together to solve problems rather than devoting all their time and talents trying to humiliate each other.
The only way we can get Congress to stop its petty infighting is to let our senators and congressmen know that we’re sick of the hyper-partisan bickering and support candidates who show a willingness to work with their colleagues, regardless of party affiliation. We don’t know which political party "wins" if the nation’s health care system collapses, but we do know the American people will be the ones who lose.
Here on the Seacoast we are honored to have a true bipartisan champion in Maine Sen. Susan Collins.
On issue after issue Collins puts the people she represents ahead of party ideology. Her latest effort is the Cassidy-Collins Patient Freedom Act, which attempts to improve the existing health care system while incentivizing those states that want to move in a new direction.
Collins’ co-sponsor, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, is a former physician who spent years on the front lines of health care and he has seen the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Patient Freedom Act offers states three options. They can keep the system they have in place under the Affordable Care Act, they can design their own system without federal assistance or they can receive federal funding but determine their own insurance regulations, as long as they keep key consumer protections including dependent coverage through age 26 and prohibiting denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.
"The Patient Freedom Act is built on the premise that giving people more choices is superior to the ‘one-size fits all’ approach that defined Obamacare," Collins said when introducing the legislation in the Senate Jan. 23. "We recognize that what works best for the people of Maine or New Hampshire might not be right for the people of Louisiana or California. Our bill respects these differences by giving states three options to choose the path that works best for their citizens."
Collins and Cassidy acknowledge up front that the provisions of their bill are intended as a starting point to get a bipartisan discussion going.
Forty-four Senate Democrats, including New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, sent President Trump a letter this week suggesting a willingness to work with the administration "on policies that would improve the stability of the individual insurance market." But in truth, the tone of the letter is more of an accusation than the extending of an olive branch.
We understand there are hard feelings on both sides of the aisle and that "the base" of each party will howl at any sign of compromise. But we truly believe the majority of American citizens are in the political center and that they’ll reward politicians like Sen. Collins, who extend themselves in an effort to address serious issues like improving the American health care system.
The Providence Journal (R.I.), March 31, 2017
For the last three elections, Republicans have run hard against Obamacare, with notable success, expanding their seats in the House and Senate, and capturing the White House. But nobody in the party, evidently, bothered to come up with a replacement plan a large majority of Republicans could support.
On March 24, the American Health Care Act, also known as "Ryancare" (named after House Speaker Paul Ryan), died on the cutting room floor when Mr. Ryan failed to generate the votes for it.
Democrats en masse refused to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, though it seems to be unpopular with many voters and faces increasing financial problems. Being political animals, Democratic representatives would like to hang the health-care albatross around the necks of Republicans, for a change, in the next election.
Some hardcore conservatives, loath to preserve elements of what they consider an overly centralized budget-busting welfare program, blasted Mr. Ryan’s plan as "RINOcare," after Republicans In Name Only. Members of the Freedom Caucus sided with Democrats in opposing the measure.
Conceding defeat, the speaker lamented that the United States is "going to have to live with Obamacare for the foreseeable future." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opined: "Our Democratic friends ought to be pretty happy about that because we have the existing law in place and I think we’re just going to have to see how that works out."
They know how it is going to work out. Disastrously — particularly since the executive branch will no longer be striving mightily to persuade healthy Americans to sign up for Obamacare, as the last president did.
Republicans, however cynical, should understand: Blaming the Democrats for Obamacare is no answer. Republicans were elected to come up with something better. Thus far, they have only demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to deliver on their promises.
Is there any hope for responsible leadership?
Maybe. The Associated Press’s Hope Yen reported on Mar. 27: "Trump aides said the president could seek support from moderate Democrats on upcoming legislative battles ranging from the budget and tax cuts to health care, leaving open the possibility he could revisit health-care legislation."
Press Secretary Sean Spicer added that the president is "absolutely" serious about working with Democrats on health care. Mr. Trump and some senior staff have apparently "received a number of calls … from members of both sides" to "work together, offer up ideas, and have suggestions about how to come to a resolution on this, and get to a House vote on this."
A bipartisan plan would certainly be a step forward. While there are limits to how much taxpayers can afford for health care, particularly with a $20 trillion national debt, this necessity is too important to be treated as nothing but a political football. There are ways to help the poor get care while injecting some market forces into the system.
Both parties will have to have skin in the game before they will defend a new health care plan and make sure it works.
Admittedly, that is not going to be an easy task in today’s polarized political environment.
Genuine leaders, though, find ways to improve life for Americans and rally political and public support behind those changes. Americans need a better, sustainable health-care plan. Continued sparring and political back-biting will not get us there.
The (Barre-Montpelier) Times Argus (Vt.), April 5, 2017
Senate Democrats are prepared to block the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and the Republican majority is prepared to change the Senate rules to push the appointment through anyway.
Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders are willing to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination, offended by the candidate’s evasiveness and alarmed by his ideological rigidity. Mounting a filibuster comes at a cost, however. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Republicans would rewrite the Senate rules in order to prohibit the use of a filibuster to block Supreme Court nominees. As it stands the Republicans would need 60 votes to shut down debate; if the Republicans change the rules, Gorsuch would need only 51 votes to gain confirmation.
Elimination of the filibuster on high court nominations worries some Democrats. But what do they have to lose? If they give in to McConnell they will have retained the right to filibuster but would have lost the power to exercise it. Instead, they would have surrendered to one of the most egregious power grabs in the nation’s history, allowing the Republicans to place their stamp on the judiciary in order to impose an agenda on the nation that the nation has shown no indication it supports.
The Republican campaign to seize dominance of the judiciary must be seen as an effort by narrow interest groups to force measures into the law that the American people would never allow the legislative branch to advance. In order to pursue this agenda, the Republicans have resorted to a contemptuous assault on the role of Congress as the body that must consent to judicial appointments.
The refusal of the Republicans to allow even a hearing on President Barack Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court showed that they were willing to scoff at their own constitutional obligations in service of their ideological and economic loyalties.
Gorsuch’s refusal to answer even the most basic questions about his thinking was an expression of the same contempt for Congress that McConnell displayed in refusing to allow a hearing for Garland. Gorsuch’s affable muteness sent a message: I am above the people and their concerns. I have no responsibility to anyone but the narrow band of millionaires and ideologues who have advanced my nomination and to the president who has declared war on the American government.
Much is at stake with the Gorsuch nomination. His own rulings suggest he adheres to a view that the high court went astray in the 1930s in decisions allowing the federal government to give rulemaking power to agencies established to protect workers, consumers, investors, air, water, the purity of food and drugs. There is a cohort of extreme conservatives — President Donald Trump’s adviser Steve Bannon is their godfather — who have declared that they want to destroy the "administrative state." Gorsuch’s rulings and his refusal to describe his thinking suggest he is one of them.
The filibuster is an anti-democratic tradition in the Senate that allows a minority to block action by refusing to end debate on a measure. It is usually defended as a means to demand from senators comity and a willingness to join with the other side to find middle-of-the road solutions. In normal times, the majority would nominate a centrist justice in order to draw support from both sides so that the minority would not see the need to mount a successful filibuster.
But these are not normal times. The Republicans have succeeded in getting their way by refusing to compromise, and they will continue to get their way until the Democrats stand up to them. McConnell may ditch the filibuster this time, but he may rue the day after the people revolt against the disaster of the Trump administration and elect a Democratic Senate.
Leahy and Sanders are taking a necessary and principled stand against the Republican effort to steal a seat on the Supreme Court. The Democrats may not win this battle, but they are on the right side.