Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers:
Hartford Courant (Conn.), Jan. 19, 2016
The prevailing explanation for General Electric's leaving Connecticut, encouraged by MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, is that this state is "hostile to business." But the claim must contend with the fact that Connecticut has awarded at least $4 billion in subsidies to businesses since 1992.
So this state is pretty friendly to business — or at least to the lucky businesses that win state and local tax credits, grants, low-interest loans and the like.
But GE is a more complex story.
When the global corporation threatened last year to leave Connecticut over tax hikes, it received little sympathy from the Democrats who control the legislature, in part because of GE's history of state tax avoidance.
One narrative has liberal Democrats driving out business out of Connecticut with high taxes. But some Democrats maintain that tax rates aren't all that much higher in Connecticut. The corporate tax rate in Massachusetts is 8 percent. In Connecticut, it's 9 percent. The top individual tax rate in Massachusetts is just over 5 percent. Here, it's nearly 7 percent. What looks like minuscule to a Democrat can seem too much to a fiscal conservative.
The story gets more complicated when considering market competition.
One of GE's rivals for military contracts is Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp., which is also based in Connecticut. The firm makes the engine for the Air Force's F-35 jet fighter. GE lobbied Congress to make an alternative engine, but did not plan to make it in Connecticut. The state's congressional delegation chose Pratt's side and helped block GE's efforts, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy attended the Pratt rally afterward. He told The Wall Street Journal this week that anger over the rally "has clouded our relationship with GE for the last five years."
Deepening the impression that Connecticut picked UTC over GE is the disparity between subsidies.
According to Good Jobs First, a research center in Washington that tracks subsidies, GE has received only $7.2 million in subsidies from Connecticut since 2001. But UTC got a $400 million subsidy deal in 2014 alone. That might be because UTC is the state's largest private employer, with 22,000 employees vs. GE's 6,000 (including 800 at its Fairfield headquarters).
UTC has also played the let's-make-a-deal game, threatening to move jobs out unless company costs were lowered with subsidies.
UTC tops the list of the 10 biggest subsidy recipients in Connecticut. The reinsurance firm Schupp & Grochmal, in second place, has been awarded more than $313 million in subsidies since 2007.
Massachusetts hasn't been as generous with subsidies as Connecticut has, in part because it hasn't needed to be. Its subsidy package to GE — the state and the city of Boston have pledged $145 million in grants and aid — is the largest in Massachusetts history. It's paying $181,250 for every one of the 800 headquarters jobs it's getting from Connecticut.
A look at Good Jobs First shows that since 2008, GE has gotten about 150 state subsidy deals from Alabama to West Virginia, with a few "megadeals" like Massachusetts' — $121 million in Ohio in 2009, for example.
Clearly, tax avoidance isn't the only thing that GE is good at. It's a pro at wringing government subsidies in exchange for jobs. Call it extortion, corporate blackmail or piracy, it's a destructive drain on states.
Brattleboro Reformer (Vt.), Jan. 20, 2016
Surely we have entered some parallel reality — like Bizarro World in the Superman comic books — where reason has been replaced by knee-jerk emotional reactions and sanity has been replaced by self-delusion.
We've been walking on the edge of falling into absurdity ever since Donald Trump announced he was running for president and with his poll numbers on the rise, the whole nation has been teetering on the brink. But after Tuesday, when the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, endorsed Trump, we wonder if we will ever climb our way out of this bottomless well of irrationality and buffoonery.
It's just so ... so ... ridiculous that we find ourselves turning to satirists for a gut check and a reassurance that surely we have not shaken off this mortal coil and entered into our American-specific hell.
"An endorsement from former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is expected to widen Donald J. Trump's already impressive lead among so-called 'idiot voters,' an aide to the billionaire said on Tuesday," wrote the New Yorker's Andy Borowitz. "That's why Palin supporting Trump and not Cruz is such a win for us," the Trump aide said. "She's been out of politics for awhile, but she still has idiot cred."
Yes, this is the same Sarah Palin who John McCain selected as his vice presidential candidate in 2008 and who quit the office of Alaska's governor by saying, "We're not retreating; we are advancing in another direction." Palin attributed that quote to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, but it was actually said by Maj. Gen. Oliver Prince Smith.
"Are you ready for the leader to make America great again?" Palin said on Tuesday with Mr. Trump by her side at a rally at Iowa State University. "He's been going rogue left and right. That's why he's doing so well. He's been able to tear the veil off this idea of the system."
Now there are rumors that Trump might choose Palin as his running mate. That's not too surprising, notes Alan Rappeport and Maggie Haberman for the New York Times. "Mrs. Palin could amplify the news media-circus aspects of Mr. Trump's candidacy: She too is a reality television star accustomed to playing to the cameras and often accused of emphasizing flash over substance."
And as Ralph Reed, the chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, told the New York Times, "Palin's embrace of Trump may turn the fight over the evangelical vote into a war for the soul of the party."
That attack on the Republican mainstream was evident in Palin's endorsement speech, during which she said about the GOP, "They stomp on our neck, and then they tell us, 'Just chill, O.K., just relax.' Well, look, we are mad, and we've been had. They need to get used to it."
Among the other gems Palin dropped was, "He's got the guts to wear the issues that need to be spoken about and debate on his sleeve, where the rest of some of these establishment candidates, they just wanted to duck and hide. They didn't want to talk about these issues until he brought 'em up. In fact, they've been wearing a, this, political correctness kind of like a suicide vest."
Some pundits wondered if Palin might have had a drink or two before she took the stage to endorse Trump, but most of us know her incoherence comes naturally and is not abetted by any external substances.
As Wonkette's Kaili Joy Gray wrote, "We aren't surprised that Sarah Palin gobbled up all the glory of standing in the spotlight again, imagining she is still Moose Queen USA. That's our Sarah. But we are surprised that Donald Trump and his ego stood there silently for a full 20 minutes without rolling his eyes, telling her to shut her stupid 'persona,' or calling in his security to drag the screaming crazy lady away so she could sleep it off somewhere and give him back his mic and his spotlight. That, truly, was a sight to behold."
While this clown show is not good for American politics and for debating actual policy differences between the candidates, it surely is a good spectacle, the kind of which we are used to after years of celebrity sideshows, self-important airheads on reality shows and flash-in-pan stars aided by social media. Perhaps, though, a Trump/Palin ticket is what America deserves, a reward for our superficial understanding of global issues and our willingness to drop bombs on problems of our own creation.
Concord Monitor (N.H.), Jan. 19, 2016
The release of five Americans from an Iranian prison over the weekend provided yet another opportunity for Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio to reveal their blind spots when it comes to American history.
On Fox News Sunday, Cruz said: "I think it's a very dangerous precedent. The result of this, every bad actor on Earth has been told to go capture an American. If you want terrorists out of jail, capture an American and President Obama is in the 'let's make a deal' business."
In a statement released Saturday, Christie said, "The fact is that we shouldn't have to trade anything to get our citizens back home. They were taken illegally by a rogue regime of Mullahs over in Iran and this is the problem with this president, he gets no respect around the world."
And on Meet the Press on Sunday, Rubio said, "Our enemies now know that if you can capture an American, you can get something meaningful in exchange for it."
While it makes for a good soundbite to act as though unfriendly foreign governments and groups never used detained Americans as currency before Obama took office, the suggestion collapses under the weight of fact. An examination of any modern presidency proves the point, and none more dramatically than that of Republican idol Ronald Reagan. Of course, that's not enough to stop Rubio and others from repeatedly trying to tap into Reagan nostalgia, and the Florida senator returned to the well again on Sunday.
"When I become president of the United States," Rubio said on Meet the Press, "our adversaries around the world will know that America is no longer under the command of someone weak like Barack Obama, and it will be like Ronald Reagan, where as soon as he took office the hostages were released from Iran."
To elevate Reagan as a model for dealing with Iran creates two distinct problems.
First, there is the matter of Rubio's complete misreading of the hostage release that happened on the day of Reagan's inauguration in 1981. As PolitiFact pointed out shortly after Rubio's Meet the Press appearance, "Scholars of the period say that Reagan did not play any significant role in freeing the hostages."
David Farber, author of Taken Hostage: The Iranian Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter with Radical Islam, told PolitiFact that "well before Reagan became president, the deal for releasing the hostages had already been worked out by the Carter administration's State Department and the Iranians."
The second problem is the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s.
On July 1, 1985, Reagan said, "The United States gives terrorists no rewards. We make no concessions, we make no deals." But two weeks later, according to a timeline created by Brown University, Reagan met with National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and Chief of Staff Donald Regan to discuss a complex scheme that involved selling arms to Iran via Israel in order to secure the release of hostages being held by Hezbollah in Lebanon.
"Over a year's time, the United States shipped Iran 2,004 TOW anti-tank missiles, 120 Hawk anti-aircraft missiles and various missile spare parts," the New York Times reported in December 1987, and those numbers were later determined to be low. So what did Reagan get in return? Other than the covert funding of the Nicaraguan Contras and their many human rights violations, three hostages were released.
Terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp summed up the legacy of Iran-Contra this way: "U.S. willingness to engage in concessions with Iran and the Hezbollah . . . signaled to its adversaries that hostage-taking was an extremely useful instrument in extracting political and financial concessions from the West."
One can only imagine what Rubio, Cruz and Christie would say about Obama if the release of five wrongly detained American citizens had been secured through the illicit sale of weapons to an unfriendly nation rather than 14 months of complicated negotiations.
The Boston Globe (Mass.), Jan. 23, 2016
Vice President Joe Biden took his "moonshot" cancer initiative to the heady reaches of the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, bringing a brace of powerful weapons to the fight: decades of government service, a national bully pulpit, and searing personal experience with the disease that killed almost 600,000 Americans in 2015. In fact, by many accounts, the death of his 46-year-old son Beau, from brain cancer last year, prompted Biden to put aside his political goals to wage this battle: "I plan on doing this for the rest of my life," he told reporters at one point.
At Davos, Biden announced that he has already met with three pharmaceutical companies and the head of the US Food and Drug Administration, and that the drug executives said they are "open to a different way of doing business" in order to ensure that promising new therapies get to patients quickly.
Certainly, with this high-profile start, there's reason for optimism. But daunting barriers remain. More than 40 years after President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act of 1971, billions of dollars have been devoted to research. While there have been some tantalizing success stories since then, cancer is a complex foe: Researchers acknowledge that they still don't fully understand metastasis, and many tumors ultimately become resistant to the drugs used to treat them.
To make meaningful progress, Biden needs to break through some seemingly impenetrable silos and make cancer researchers downright uncomfortable, breast cancer advocate Fran Visco told Sharon Begley of STAT. In a genomic era, sharing data about tumors and clinical trial outcomes is essential. Biden should push private drug companies and nonprofit academic labs alike to make data readily available to others. Genetic studies of tumors, which are done at major cancer centers, are typically paid for by money that comes from philanthropists or from institutional budgets, Barrett Rollins, of Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told STAT. To deepen that pool of data — which will inevitably help scientists in their push to develop targeted therapies — insurers must step up. Biden has the clout to recommend early and often that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services begin reimbursing patients for genetic sequencing.
Presumably steeped in the folkways of Congress, after long service in the US Senate, Biden could prove to be a credible salesman for additional government funding for basic biomedical research — an important role in a Congress that seems increasingly hostile to science, period. The $4.9 billion budget for the National Cancer Institute, an important source of grant support for researchers conducting clinical trials, has been flat in recent years, once inflation is taken into account. And the cost of doing medical research, known as the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index, has been taking an ever-bigger bite out of funding, according to the Center for American Progress.
The term "moonshot," which stems from the Kennedy Administration's push for a space program that was robust enough to put US astronauts on the moon, might seem like a political cliché. At this moment, it's actually just what is needed.
The Providence Journal (R.I.), Jan. 19, 2016
Iran can violate international law and the Geneva Conventions, and humiliate American servicemen and women — and do so with impunity. That's the sad lesson we've learned from the events in recent days.
The trouble began on Jan. 12, when 10 U.S. Navy sailors on two small boats evidently mistakenly strayed into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf. Iran captured the American sailors (nine men, one woman) and held them overnight. This, as Sen. John McCain pointed out, was a violation of international law: "(S)overeign immune vessels like navy ships and boats do not lose their sovereign immune status when they are in distress at sea," the senator noted in a statement. Under international law, therefore, the sailors "are exempt from detention, boarding, or search. Their crews are not subject to detention or arrest."
Then Iran compounded the matter by apparently violating the Geneva Conventions, which govern treatment of prisoners of war. Tehran released a series of photos and videos of the captive sailors, including one in which they were shown on their knees, with their hands clasped behind their heads. Another showed a sailor abjectly apologizing to the Iranians. This would seem to violate the Conventions' ban on using captured servicemen for propaganda purposes or "insults." There can be no doubt that the videos were a major propaganda coup for the Iranian regime.
And the United States government's response to this calumny? For one, the State Department denied that the Geneva Conventions applied to the captured sailors, because we are "not at war with Iran." That would come as a surprise to the family members of the scores of American military personnel who have been killed by Iranian explosives in Afghanistan and Iraq. And perhaps more appalling, Secretary of State John Kerry actually thanked Iran for its behavior here. "I want to express my gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation ?in swiftly resolving this matter," Secretary Kerry said.
Perhaps needless to say, this episode bodes poorly for the success of the recently inked nuclear deal, which is supposed to forestall Iran's progress on its nuclear weapons program. If Tehran can violate international law, humiliate the United States and get away with it — in fact, more than get away with it, but actually be thanked for it — what incentive will it have to abide by the terms of the agreement?
Portland Press Herald (Maine), Jan. 20, 2016
In the course of several decades as a music teacher in western New York, Lucie McNulty reached a lot of people. But at the end of her life, she was alone, her body discovered at her Wells home some 2½ years after she died.
Although it's unusual for a person's death to go unnoticed as long as McNulty's did, it's not unusual for someone who lives alone to die alone. McNulty's sad, solitary passing should raise questions about how to allow older people to maintain their independence without losing touch with the community around them.
Last seen in the summer of 2013, McNulty, who retired to Maine in 2001, would have been 69 at the time of her death. Police had checked on her several times after hearing from a neighbor and an out-of-state friend. Nobody answered their knock, they said, but nothing appeared to be wrong.
Law enforcement officials didn't investigate further until the town contacted them, wanting to know how to reach McNulty and inform her of impending home foreclosure proceedings. Prompted by the history of fruitless checks on her well-being, along with her unpaid property taxes, disconnected phone and returned mail, police decided they had cause Jan. 8 to enter her home.
By all accounts, there were few opportunities to touch base with McNulty. She didn't talk to her neighbors. She stayed away from the senior center. And she didn't sign up for Meals on Wheels or her police department's "Good Morning" check-in program for disabled residents and seniors.
So what can police do when an adult goes missing and doesn't turn up? The options are few and have to be weighed carefully. To justify entering someone's home without a warrant, police need a reason, like blood or evidence that someone is in immediate danger. That's as it should be. The right to freedom from searches is so important, in fact, that it's in our Constitution.
But there are ways to check on someone's well-being without violating their privacy. If police had contacted Adult Protective Services, the agency might have conducted an inquiry "long before now," Barbara Schlictman of the Maine Center for Elder Law told the Press Herald. And it's good news that Wells is stepping up publicity for its check-in service, used by just a dozen residents now.
There are more than 300,000 Mainers over age 60, and more than 30 percent of this population lives alone. So as the number of seniors in Maine continues to rise, so will the need to brainstorm new ways to keep our elders from losing that connection to the outside world that can make the difference between solitude and isolation.