- Associated Press
Friday, February 17, 2017

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

(Meriden) Record-Journal (Conn.), Feb. 14, 2017

Yale University has seen the light and decided to change the name of John C. Calhoun College to Grace Murray Hopper College. This is the first time in its 316-year history that Yale has renamed a building because of the legacy of its namesake.

Calhoun was an 1804 graduate of Yale, a representative and then a senator from South Carolina, and later a vice president of the United States. He not only accepted as normal, but passionately promoted the institution of black slavery in the South as “a positive good.”

Hopper was a computer scientist, an engineer, and a Navy rear admiral who received both master’s and doctoral degrees from Yale in the 1930s, long before the university accepted female undergraduates. She posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

The name Calhoun College- which has been carved in stone, literally, since it was established as a residential college by the university in 1931 -has always been controversial, but the issue came to a head last year when an African-American Yale cafeteria worker, Corey Menafee, smashed a glass panel depicting two slaves (two happy, grinning slaves) carrying bales of cotton. Menafee was arrested on a felony charge, which the university later dropped.

After the name-change decision, Yale President Peter Salovey said the legacy of racism was too much for the university to ignore. “John C. Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist,” said Salovey, “conflicts with Yale’s mission and values.”

This is in contrast to last year, when the university announced that the Calhoun name would remain. But a task force was formed, and it unanimously recommended naming the college after Hopper.

“In making this change, we must be vigilant not to erase the past,” Salovey said, but now “we have the opportunity to move the university forward in a way that reinforces our mission and core values.”

It is surprising that it took Yale so long- as a prestigious and revered educational institution -to realize that artifacts from the days of Calhoun could be maintained and could be used as educational material, while the university could at the same time move on and rename the college after someone more worthy of the honor.

Yale has done the right thing.




The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Feb. 14, 2017

Donald Trump and Paul LePage see the Northeast as a hotbed of voter fraud, where no election outcome can be trusted. As president of the United States and governor of Maine, respectively, they are in uniquely powerful positions to ferret out this fraud, yet despite what they see as a threat to our democracy, they have ordered no investigations.

If they did, they would find nothing, just as other investigations have found no evidence of consequential fraud.

Still, their constant, fantastical hawing clears the way for legislation aimed at making it harder for people to vote. Maine has said no to these restrictions before and we should continue to do so.

At least two bills in front of the Legislature will try to capitalize on the fanciful claims by Trump and LePage. One would require voter identification at the polls, while another would make it more difficult for college students to vote in Maine.

They would be necessary if millions of people took advantage of the lack of voter ID laws to vote illegally, or if college students commonly cast ballots in two states. That’s what happens in the ridiculous conspiracies concocted by Trump, who says as many as 5 million voted illegally in New Hampshire on Nov. 8, and LePage, who said after the election that he could not stand by the results. No, these restrictions do not eliminate widespread fraud, because there isn’t any widespread fraud to eliminate. Study after study backs this up, with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University finding that voter impersonation occurs in, at most, .0025 percent of ballots.

And a 2011 review by then-Secretary of State Charlie Summers, a Republican, found no evidence that students and noncitizens were voting in Maine.

However, the restrictions do accomplish something- they keep largely Democratic voters from voting.

Around the country, Republican-controlled legislatures and governor’s offices are requiring voter ID, eliminating same-day registration, shortening the early-voting period, and making it harder for students to vote, knowing their party benefits.

So they’ll ignore the ample evidence that voter fraud occurs so infrequently that it is practically non-existent, and they’ll ignore the fact they are putting barriers in place to keep American citizens from exercising their right to vote.

The Election Assistance Commission was created after the 2000 presidential election to help states implement new voting procedures and act as a clearinghouse for information on new technology. This month, a GOP-controlled House committee, along party lines, voted to shut down the commission. Ballot security, indeed.




The Salem News (Mass.), Feb. 13, 2017

“Torture works. … And waterboarding is your minor form. Some people say it’s not actually torture. Let’s assume it is. But they asked me the question: What do you think of waterboarding? Absolutely fine. But we should go much stronger than waterboarding. … They’re chopping off heads.”

- Donald Trump, Jan. 17, in Sun City, South Carolina

Let’s accept for a moment President Trump’s premise that torture works, ignoring neuroscience and psychological research that suggests otherwise.

The question Americans must ask is not whether torture is effective, but whether our government should use it.

And the answer is clear: No, principally for two reasons.

First, it’s simply inhumane to inflict severe pain intentionally on another living being. All of our nation’s laws, and the foundation of most of our religions, is based on the principal of respect for life and a spirit of benevolence. If we lose those values, we’ll become more like the terrorists we abhor.

Yes, we should punish people who have committed heinous crimes. But the punishments should not be cruel and unusual. And the same holds true for enemies of the state. While we shouldn’t give them posh accommodations in the Trump Towers, we are compelled to treat them humanely, providing the basic necessities of food, water, clothing and shelter.

The CIA used waterboarding- a technique that simulates drowning -on suspects detained in secret foreign prisons during the administration of George W. Bush. But President Barack Obama, lawmakers and human rights groups worked together to ban the practice in 2015.

Here’s the other compelling reason that the United States shouldn’t employ torture. We should stand for what’s right and what’s good in the world, rather than resorting to barbaric tactics practiced by our enemies. We should stand on high ground, rather than stooping to the level of adversaries. We should follow international law.

Trump reiterated recently that he believes torture works, just as his administration was preparing a review of our nation’s war on terror.

As many of his comments and tweets do, this one sent shock waves across the world. Theresa May, prime minister of Great Britain, suggested that the British intelligence agency would stop working with U.S. intelligence if torture tactics were employed.

While our allies cringed, terrorists surely rubbed their hands in glee at the possibility of dragging the West into their preferred battleground, the pits of barbarism.

Trump later backed off his statement on torture, saying he would leave it to the discretion of his defense secretary nominee, James Mattis, who has previously said that he doesn’t believe in the effectiveness of torture.

But Trump’s position is still deeply troubling. He puts America first, but shouldn’t that include helping create a world where reason and kindness prevail over ruthlessness? Shouldn’t America lead the world by example?

Nils Melzer, chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, said that “without any doubt, waterboarding amounts to torture.” Melzer added that a resumption of torture by the U.S. would prompt other countries to “get back into the torture business.”

The United States should never be in “the torture business.” And, make no mistake, waterboarding is torture.




The Providence Journal (R.I.), Feb. 12, 2017

It was billed as “the greatest show on earth,” and at one time, perhaps it was. With colorful costumes, exotic animals and death-defying acts, the traveling shows that came to be known as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus became a staple of American entertainment and culture.

Traveling from town to town, first by horse and buggy and later by train, this 19th century form of entertainment thrilled audiences and fueled imaginations, providing a dramatic break from daily life with its outsized doses of drama and flash.

So successful were the early circuses- and in particular, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that formed through a merger in 1919 -that even as America expanded and modernized and other forms of entertainment grew in popularity, the circus remained an ingrained institution.

But there was no escaping the march of time. In the 21st century, the circus and its acts- despite changes over the years -represented a costly form of live entertainment in a world filled action-packed movies, television and video games, easily accessed through smartphones and other devices.

On top of that, it was a form of entertainment fraught with peril. In Providence, a hair-hanging act came to a disastrous end when a clip snapped, plunging several performers to the ground. Meanwhile, there was growing pressure from animal rights groups that claimed the circus mistreated its creatures. The battle played out in lawsuits and in the media and took a toll, to the point that Ringling Bros. announced in 2015 that its elephants- a star attraction since 1800s -would be retired by 2018. That date was later moved up to 2016.

Then, last month, came the announcement- seemingly out of nowhere yet long feared -that the greatest show was coming to an end.

“The competitor in many ways is time,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, whose family bought the Ringling Bros. circus in 1967 and later told it to toymaker Mattel, only to buy it back in 1982.

Feld said that with all the travel and bringing performers and providing school for their children, the show in many ways was a throwback to another era.

“We can’t see how it works in today’s world,” he said. “You’ve got all these things working against it.”

The circus is indeed a throwback to another era, but it is with sadness that we see the Ringling Bros. circus come to an end, for it is an American institution. While we share concerns about the treatment of animals and want them properly cared for, it is hard to believe that there was not some way to meet the goals and needs of all sides, including the animals.

Now, of course, that’s a moot point. In 2017- a century and a half after the shows began -Ringling Bros. will hold its last performance on May 21 in Uniondale, New York. Happily, one of the last sets of shows, running from May 4 to May 7, will be in Providence, giving local people one last time to see what was once the greatest show on earth.




The Portsmouth Herald (N.H.), Feb. 14, 2017

The Trump administration’s easily disproved claims of rampant voter fraud in New Hampshire, repeated by the president and his associates this past week, remind us of a scandal that took place during President George W. Bush’s second term.

“In 2007, the Justice Department was upended by scandal because it had pursued a partisan agenda on voting, under the guise of rooting out suspected voter fraud,” write Adam Gitlin and Wendy R. Weiser in “The Justice Department’s Voter Fraud Scandal: Lessons,” for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “In pursuing this agenda, DOJ political leadership fired seven well-respected U.S. Attorneys, dismissing some top Republican prosecutors because they had refused to prosecute nonexistent vote fraud.”

The paper sounds the alarm because, “Jeff Sessions’ prosecution of civil rights leaders for ‘voter fraud,’ all of whom were acquitted, was a key factor in his rejection by a Republican-majority U.S. Senate for a federal judgeship in 1986.”

Now Sessions is the U.S. attorney general, the chief enforcement officer for the nation’s voting rights laws.

The idea that there is rampant voter fraud in New Hampshire was thoroughly debunked after Trump first raised it, shortly after his election, claiming he would have won New Hampshire if not for illegal voters.

Senior Deputy Secretary of State David M. Scanlan, head of the state’s election division, said: “There is no indication of anything that widespread taking place in New Hampshire. If he (Trump) has evidence he should pass it along so we can act on it.”

Assistant Attorney General Brian Buonamano, said: “I do not see any indication of a coordinated effort to conduct voter fraud on a large scale in the state of New Hampshire. There is no indication of that.”

Senate President Chuck Morse, a Republican, bristled at a hearing when asked for increased funding to investigate voter fraud. “I don’t understand why this is coming out today,” Morse said. “I have been assured by the secretary of state that our elections are good and clean.”

Even Gov. Chris Sununu, who peddled the fiction that busloads of Massachusetts voters cast ballots in the state, conceded to The Union Leader: “No evidence of voter fraud in this past election has been brought to my attention.”

Despite the rejection of these false claims, New Hampshire currently has nearly a dozen bills aimed at voting rights pending in the Legislature.

After Trump’s latest claim on Feb. 10 that he and Sen. Kelly Ayotte lost New Hampshire due to voter fraud, Tom Rath, a former Republican attorney general, tweeted: “Let me be as unequivocal as possible- allegations of voter fraud in NH are baseless, without any merit -it’s shameful to spread these fantasies.”

Federal Elections Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub stated: “I am acutely aware that our democracy rests on the faith of the American people in the integrity of their elections.” She challenged Trump to provide proof.

But proof will not be coming because it doesn’t exist.

This repeated falsehood is not about Trump’s alternative reality or his bruised ego. These lies have a much darker motive. Repeated long enough and loud enough they will be just the excuse the Department of Justice needs to launch politically motivated investigations, just as it did under Alberto Gonzales.

Should the DOJ “be guided by political goals rather than legal principle, it could seriously damage the institutions of American Democracy. There is reason to worry- because that is exactly what happened little more than a decade ago,” warns the Brennan Center for Justice.

Spreading lies about the integrity of our electoral process is not only troubling, it’s dangerous. We need to keep our eye on the ball and fight to protect the right of all Americans to vote. Voting is the foundation upon which all our other rights stand. Attacks on voting rights should be a line we do not allow the Trump administration to cross.




The Rutland Herald (Vt.), Feb. 10, 2017

If you have heart disease, the levels of your cholesterol, blood pressure, weight and physical activity may well affect your future health. The medical profession is betting that regular, proactive monitoring of these measures will keep you healthier longer and will cost you and the state’s health care system less in the long run.

That’s one example of a case that could be affected by the new pilot program announced this week by Gov. Phil Scott. The program will enroll 30,000 Medicaid patients in a group where all are covered by an annual lump sum of $93 million.

Within those 30,000 will be a certain number of healthy young adults, old people, children, pregnant women and people with heart disease and other conditions. Assessing how much it would cost to handle their medical needs for a year is what insurance companies do all the time, and they adjust their rates accordingly.

Medical practices participating in the new program have accepted the premise that preventive care meant to keep people well will lower overall costs. Thus, that heart patient might come in for visits every three months during which the physician could monitor those measures, adjust prescriptions and urge healthy behavior. The state’s chronic care program is already using these methods successfully. If the doctor keeps his or her patient from having a heart attack, then major costs will have been avoided and the patient will live a healthier, longer life.

The present fee-for-service system rewards providers for excessive care. Doctors who understand that the insurance company is likely to pick up the tab, whatever it is, may be encouraged to order unnecessary tests, just to cover all bases or to protect themselves from charges of negligence. Under the fee-for-service model, every discrete service and Band- Aid adds to the bill, sometimes in exorbitant fashion.

The need to come in under a budget cap could provide practitioners with an incentive to skimp on coverage, to ration care, for the sake of saving money. That is the danger of any effort to bring costs under control. But Dr. John Brumstead, CEO of the University of Vermont Medical Center, attested to the altruism of Vermont practitioners as well as offering the hard-nosed calculation that if they skimp on care now, they will pay higher costs later.

Reliance on a culture of ethics rather than a system that would ensure ethical behavior may seem risky, but where a culture of ethics is lacking, no system will guarantee it will flourish. By removing the incentive for waste, however, the new system could create incentives for careful thinking about a patient’s needs.

Scott’s pilot program is intended to test the all-payer model negotiated by former Gov. Peter Shumlin, which would be a statewide program involving private insurers as well as government programs, including Medicaid and Medicare. Scott had been skeptical of the allpayer model. Now he is using the new pilot program to “test drive” the system for a year.

If health care providers figure wrong and end up spending more than their allotted $ 93 million, they will have to take the loss. If they spend less, they get to keep part of the benefits.

When insurance companies were the ones with a stake in containing costs, through health maintenance organizations, there were many complaints that faceless insurance bureaucrats were making medical decisions about what could be covered. Now, the medical professionals themselves will be managing care, and the onus will be on them to bring their ethical consciousness to bear. If they don’t, there will be complaints from patients through a hearing process, and as Brumstead foresaw, the long-term costs could be higher.

Shumlin took a lot of grief during his tenure for health care ventures that struggled, notably Vermont Health Connect, the state website. He also drew criticism from skeptics such as Scott for his pioneering all-payer plan.

It is telling that Scott has appointed Al Gobeille as his secretary of health and human services. Gobeille was chairman of the Green Mountain Care Board for Shumlin and negotiated the all-payer waiver for his administration. He has apparently persuaded Scott to give it a try. All of Vermont could benefit.




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