Editorials from around New England
Editorials from around New England:
Put focus on students instead of sports
The Connecticut Post
In a move that summed up a lot that’s off-kilter about college sports, the University of Connecticut reached an agreement last week on an exit fee from its current home, the American Athletic Conference. In exchange for $17 million, UConn will move nearly all its sports teams to the Big East next summer, rather than wait more than two years as its agreement had stipulated.
It’s likely a sensible move. UConn wanted out, and it’s worth paying a little extra to get out sooner. Along with the change in conference will be a savings of some $2 million a year in travel, which is one of many benefits of regularly playing against teams in Rhode Island and New York rather than Texas and Oklahoma.
More than that, though, it’s yet another reminder of the staggering sums that regularly change hands in the big business of college athletics. UConn, after all, is walking away from its part of a 12-year, $1 billion TV contract between ESPN and the AAC in part on the theory that there’s more money to be made somewhere else. NCAA basketball, where UConn has known a bit of success, is a multibillion-dollar industry, but it pales next to the behemoth that is NCAA football (where UConn has not been so successful).
The severing of conference ties at Connecticut’s flagship university coincided with the release of a report by its junior U.S. senator, Democrat Chris Murphy. “Madness, Inc.: How Colleges Keep Athletes in the Field and Out of the Classroom,” details what Murphy considers some of the abuses committed by the NCAA against the people it loves to refer to as student athletes but could in other contexts be considered exploited workers.
More than anything, Murphy says college sports have taken away too much focus from what is supposed to be the purpose of the institutions in question. “I love college sports,” Murphy told the CT Mirror, “but I hate the way it dominates policy at the University of Connecticut.”
His report demonstrates the myriad ways many colleges place so much emphasis on athletics that the players are denied the opportunity to get an education, which is supposed to be the whole purpose. If an education is considered compensation, and that education is not being delivered, how can that system be sustainable, he asks?
It can’t. The NCAA is far too powerful, and its member institutions need to regain some control for the benefit of students. From some perspectives, simply paying the players makes the most sense, but even short of that there is much that could be done to improve their situations.
To start, schools must ensure that education takes top priority. Any attempt to deny proper time for studying or to shunt players into no-show classes must be punished.
The system will not change easily, but it is not too late to start fresh. Million-dollar payouts mean universities have lost their focus, and they need to ensure steps are taken to put the interests of the most important people first.
Listen to the wardens: wear your life jacket
Bangor Daily News
Maine law requires anyone on a boat or other watercraft to at least have a life jacket with them on board. All children age 10 and under must wear a life jacket on board at all times, and while adults are not required to do so, the Maine Warden Service recommends it.
That, and statistics about drowning, should be enough to convince us all to take the extra time, maybe look a little less cool and to put on a life jacket.
According to the Boaters’ Guide to Maine Boating Laws and Responsibilities, approximately 90 percent of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket. We’re not advocating for a stronger life jacket law, but we are advocating for people to look at the numbers, exercise caution and take the wardens’ advice.
For the average boater, this should be a no-brainer. There are, of course, complicating factors for people who work on the water. Take lobstermen for example. As a story from Maine Public’s partner WBUR illustrated last year, life jackets can be viewed more as a hassle or an obstacle to an already tough job rather than a lifeline.
″(I) never even considered it,” Peter Fredrickson a captain from Hingham, Massachusetts, said about wearing a life jacket while fishing. “Because, you know, big, bulky life jackets — No. 1, you can’t work in them, and No. 2, it’s hot . and on a day like today, to wear anything else besides shorts and a T-shirt and your rain pants is gonna be miserable.”
Another Massachusetts lobsterman who was interviewed in the WBUR story, Steve Holler, said last year he was unlikely to start wearing a life jacket while fishing — even with the recent efforts to make them more conducive to working on a lobster boat.
“I don’t think of it that much,” Holler said. “There (are) more hazards on the boat — I could lose fingers, I could get some serious lacerations with the knives, hand injuries, leg injuries . Falling overboard is on my mind, but it’s not at the very top, sadly to say.”
According to a 16-year study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 204 fishermen died from unintentional falls overboard between 2000 and 2016. None of them were wearing a life jacket.
“The most frequent cause of death in the lobster fishing community is falls overboard,” said Julie Sorensen, director of the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety (NEC), in the WBUR story.
Sorensen and NEC have partnered with others including lobster industry groups to create the Lifejackets for Lobstermen Project, which is currently traveling Maine in a van selling different life jacket models that have been designed, with feedback from lobstermen, in order to be more adaptable to working conditions on the boat. We’re not telling lobstermen to buy these jackets, but they should always be considering ways to make sure their livelihood doesn’t come at the expense of their safety.
The same goes for recreational boaters. It is tragically too easy for a short paddle to an offshore island or a moonlit cruise around a lake to turn deadly, simply because life jackets weren’t used. It doesn’t matter if the weather is perfect when you set out or that you are a strong swimmer. Conditions change; things can go unexpectedly wrong.
Maine is blessed with tremendous water resources, which we use for both recreation and commercial purposes. We should seize these many opportunities. But when we do, we should do the smart thing and put on a life jacket, even if it’s not required. They may be hot, they may look dorky, they may get in the way. But they can also save lives, and that seems like a worthwhile trade to us.
Don’t give up on Red Sox - yet
The Springfield Republican
The second season of baseball has begun, and the Boston Red Sox appear as confusing and unpredictable as they did in the first.
The unofficial “second season,” begins August 1. That’s because baseball’s trade deadline is July 31, after which teams must limit their roster changes to in-house options, with few exceptions. Other than adding a new pitcher, Andrew Cashner, the Red Sox chose to stick with the same cast they had during a four-month rollercoaster ride that put them in playoff contention but in a precarious spot, nonetheless.
Baseball’s playoff structure allows for five teams in each of its two leagues to make the playoffs. Three teams are division winners and two are “wild card teams.” The wild-card teams meet in a one-game playoff for the right to advance, while the loser goes home - its postseason experience from a season of work ending less than four hours after it began.
With the New York Yankees positioned to win Boston’s American League East division, the Red Sox find themselves in the uneasy position of chasing a wild card spot. It’s quite a comedown for a team that won a franchise record 108 games in the 2018 season, then flattened three playoff opponents to win its fourth World Series of this century - something no other team has done.
When Boston scored 19 runs against the Yankees in one game and defeated its rival in three games out of four, it looked as if the Red Sox were back on track. But Boston’s real rival is Tampa Bay, another wild-card contender who smacked down the Red Sox on three straight nights at Fenway Park.
As the Red Sox have played out an uneven season, there was talk they would be “sellers” at the trade deadline. In other words, they would trade off some of their better, more marketable players to bring in new, young talent - essentially giving up on this season while building for a stronger future.
Many teams have done that successfully, but the Red Sox are never sellers. They are in it to win it, every year. Manager Alex Cora says 2019 is no different and the goal remains a World Series title.
Maybe that’s why Cora said after the Tampa Bay debacle that he would do what he rarely does: call a team meeting. The Red Sox entered August with two months and more than 55 games to go. Seasons have been saved and championship teams have emerged in less time than that.
Don’t give up hope, Red Sox fans. This is the 15th anniversary of the magical 2004 season, when Boston broke an 86-year championship drought by winning the World Series as a wild card, albeit under different rules for conducting the playoffs.
Will it happen again? It’s possible. With this unpredictable and inconsistent team, anything is.
For the good of the nation, it’s time to ditch Mitch
The Concord Monitor
There may not be a less patriotic, less democratic, more cynical, shameless or hypocritical politician in America than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Kentucky Republican’s offenses against democracy, fairness and tradition are the stuff of legend. McConnell may represent one state, but he has become a roadblock that prevents a functioning Congress. That makes him a national problem. He’s up for re-election in 2020. A national effort to end his abuses of power by ousting him from Congress deserves national support.
“Moscow Mitch,” as former Republican congressman and MSNBC commentator Joe Scarborough dubbed him weeks ago, is a master obstructionist. If a bill or a nominee for a federal position would benefit the country but aid Democrats, he will kill it. He will flash his rheumy-eyed, chinless grin and brag, as he did after refusing to hold a Senate confirmation vote on Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, that “the decision I made not to fill the Supreme Court vacancy when Justice Scalia died was the most consequential decision I’ve made in my entire public career.”
It’s a decision history will revile.
McConnell has blocked a string of election security bills designed to protect against further Russian meddling, the latest bills being the Securing America’s Federal Elections Act, which would require “durable, voter-verified paper ballots” in federal elections as a backup, and another that would require candidates for federal office to report to report federal contributions by foreign nationals to the FBI.
When asked at a press conference why he wouldn’t allow election security legislation to come up for a vote, McConnell smiled and said, “Because I get to decide what we vote on.” That’s far too much power for any one person.
Mere talk of election security angers President Trump because it raises questions about the legitimacy of his 2016 win. McConnell knows that. He also knows that special counsel Robert Mueller, in last week’s testimony before Congress, called Russian government interference in U.S. elections “among the most serious challenges to democracy” he has ever seen.
McConnell doesn’t care. He has always put self-preservation above principle or patriotism, a quality that led Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank to describe him as “a Russian asset.”
Kentucky is a deep-red state. Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by 30 points in 2016. Folks back home, however, aren’t big fans of McConnell, whose home-state approval is in the low 30% range, making him the least popular American senator.
McConnell will likely face a strong Democratic opponent; two potential challengers are former Marine lieutenant colonels. Ditch Mitch, a national effort to raise money for McConnell’s eventual opponent, is already underway.
McConnell’s opponent will be selected in Kentucky’s May 19, 2020, primary. Fair-minded voters in every state should help fund the effort to drain the swamp of the obstacle in chief, Mitch McConnell.
The Boris and Donald Show
The Providence Journal
Politics just became a lot more interesting in Britain.
Tory MP and former cabinet minister Boris Johnson, who has also been a journalist and two-term mayor of London, was elected the new leader of his party on July 23. He won 92,153 members’ votes, which is 66% of the total vote, to defeat Jeremy Hunt, the outgoing secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs.
Mr. Johnson became prime minister July 24 when his predecessor, Theresa May, formally resigned.
The first 100 days of Mr. Johnson’s leadership are going to be extremely difficult. He has to fulfill the longstanding obligation of taking Britain out of the European Union, also known as Brexit. It’s an issue that has brought down his two direct predecessors, David Cameron and Mrs. May, and has badly divided his party and country.
The withdrawal date for Brexit has been extended, and is now scheduled to take place on Halloween. Whether Mr. Johnson ultimately reaches a deal with EU for Brexit, or chooses the riskier (spookier?) political option of a no-deal Brexit, it will leave a bitter taste in many British mouths for years to come.
But Mr. Johnson insists the naysayers will be proved wrong. “To all those who say we cannot be ready, I say, ‘Do not underestimate this country,’ ” he said upon taking the helm. “Do not underestimate our powers of organization and our determination.”
Mr. Johnson will have to tend to more than Brexit, of course. One important duty will be building relationships with other world leaders.
This includes President Trump, often compared to Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Trump seems pleased with his budding political ally. He tweeted on July 23, “Congratulations to Boris Johnson on becoming the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He will be great!”
Mr. Johnson shares something of Mr. Trump’s eccentric nature and nationalistic populism, placing the narrow interests of their nations above ideals of global cooperation. He’s an independent thinker, marches to the beat of his own drum, and often speaks in public with little to no filter. Both have distinctive hairstyles that explode into wild shapes in the wind.
Yet Mr. Johnson can be starkly different than Mr. Trump. A University of Oxford graduate, he is an author and former editor of The Spectator, rather than a risk-taking businessman little given to book knowledge.
Mr. Johnson opted against meeting Mr. Trump during his recent London visit, and called the president’s controversial tweets about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and other left-wing members of The Squad “totally unacceptable.” In the past, he labeled Mr. Trump unfit for the presidency.
Nevertheless, analysts predict that Mr. Johnson and Britain will be a strong ally to Mr. Trump, particularly in matters that involve military and economic cooperation.
Both men have similar concerns about the totalitarian regime in Iran. The current standoff between Britain and Iran over Iran’s seizure of a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf may broaden support for America’s efforts to halt the terror-backing regime’s nuclear ambitions.
The Boris and Donald Show will surely have its good moments, bad moments and the occasional hiccup. Their expected meeting next month will surely be entertaining. Still, these seem like very strange times in a world that, until recently, featured less flamboyant and nationalistic leaders.
Prescription for progress
The Rutland Herald
While it’s still unclear how consumers will see the benefits, the Trump administration plan that would allow Americans to legally and safely import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada is a welcome change in policy.
The decision this week comes amid a public outcry (and has been an ongoing political issue from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders) over high prices for life-sustaining medications. The details of how the importation would work still need to be worked out. The plan has to go through time-consuming regulatory approval and later could face court challenges from drugmakers. And there’s no telling how Canada will react to becoming the drugstore for its much bigger neighbor, with potential consequences for policymakers and consumers there.
Last year, Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed what became the nation’s first law that would allow the importation of prescription drugs from Canada, but it needed federal approval. The governor this week praised the administration’s step toward making prescription drugs more affordable.
“It’s important to give credit where credit’s due: The Trump administration has taken an important step toward making prescription drugs more affordable for Americans, and they should be acknowledged for doing so,” Scott said in a statement. “Vermont has long been a leader in this area and, while there is still much more to do to give Americans full access to lower cost prescription drugs, we are pleased to have federal partners from both the executive and legislative branches who share our concern over the huge impact filling prescriptions and purchasing health insurance has on families’ checkbooks.”
Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, said she told the federal Health and Human Services secretary that her administration also is ready to review and help shape the new rule. Mills signed a similar law to Vermont’s last month.
“For far too long, we have had to fight the federal government tooth and nail on the issue of safe importation of quality medication — and often unsuccessfully so — which is why I am glad to see the Administration take a positive step in a new direction today,” Mills said in a statement.
This spring, Maine’s legislation drew support from several residents who said they were forgoing or taking on debt to afford medicine for conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Type 1 diabetes.
Critics included the trade group representing pharmaceutical wholesale distributors and companies such as Pfizer, which raised concerns about counterfeiters in the drug industry and different drug regulations in other countries.
But supporters noted that the legislation would require the state to only import prescription drugs that meet FDA safety standards.
The U.S. drug industry is facing a crescendo of consumer complaints over prices, as well as legislation from both parties in Congress to rein in costs, not to mention proposals from the Democratic presidential contenders. Ahead of the 2020 election, Trump is feeling pressure to deliver on years of harsh rhetoric about pharmaceutical industry prices.
This week, the president of the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America called the plan “far too dangerous” for American patients.
Most patients take affordable generic drugs to manage conditions such as high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol. But polls show concern about the prices of breakthrough medications for intractable illnesses like cancer or hepatitis C infection, whose annual costs can run to $100,000 or much more. And long-available drugs like insulin have seen serial price increases that forced some people with diabetes to ration their own doses.
According to published reports, the leading drug industry trade group, known as PhRMA, is a powerhouse that generally gets its way with lawmakers. It spent $128 million on lobbying in 2017, according to its most recent tax filings. But pressure on the industry is rising across many fronts.
As consumers of these drugs, we need to keep that pressure up. This is one policy change that Vermonters — and the nation — need and want.
In the end, it could be more affordable to us, and save lives at the same time.