Editorial Roundup: New England

Hearst Connecticut Media. September 23, 2022.

Editorial: On Banned Books Week, imagine the world without libraries

If you need proof that the pen remains more threatening than the sword, consider that many Americans are more passionate about banning books than they are about endorsing safe gun laws.

They sometimes use words themselves to voice displeasure with titles on public shelves, though these days that commonly comes in the form of graceless threats made on social media.

Other battle lines are drawn through larger grassroots efforts. Rather than seeking to erase words, such enthusiasm would be better channeled into, say, community book clubs.

Banned Books Week arrives this week with the news that reported efforts to ban and restrict books are higher than ever. The American Library Association cited the highest figures in decades in 2021. Autumn just arrived and 2022 has already lapped its predecessor.

More troubling is that such efforts seem to be a backlash to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, pushing instead for Uniformity, Inequity and Exclusion.

These aren’t just a few books being targeted. The ALA documented challenges to 1,651 different titles in the first eight months of this year. Those are merely incidents collected through media reports.

Two of the titles that draw the most complaints are “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel, and “Lawn Boy,” narrated by a young gay man.

The high percentage of criticisms aimed at books with LGBTQ themes suggests America still has a lot of work to do regarding acceptance. It’s something we need to talk about (after doing some reading first).

There are other notable pivots in the plot. Librarians are becoming targets. A public campaign launched in Idaho over “Gender Queer” resulted in a library director being harassed and accused of pedophilia. She finally resigned.

The library did not even carry the book.

This is stuff right out of “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” a book which has its own history of being banned. But then, so were “A Farewell to Arms,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Brave New World” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.” If all of these are too 20th century for you, consider the most banned titles of the 21st century, which have “Harry Potter” in the title.

This is not a problem happening somewhere else. “Gender Queer” is fueling a public debate in Greenwich after it was flagged by First Selectman Fred Camillo in an email blast that deemed it “disgusting.” Camillo was careful to add that “I’m not for banning books,” and Greenwich Library reported that it had not received a formal request to remove books in more than two decades.

Meanwhile, in Stamford, Ferguson Library Director Alice Knapp writes in an op-ed that “ugly complaints, including a few that were threatening” were made in response to a recent event in which storytellers dressed in drag to express lessons in tolerance.

For the authors, such complaints serve as a form of promotion, as libraries often defend their words through public readings, displays and writing contests. All are invitations to listen, to explore and to exchange ideas.

During Banned Books Week, it’s worth pausing to consider what the world would be like without library shelves. Readers of all ages would be left to explore the internet, a library lacking guidance or context.

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Bangor Daily News. September 27, 2022.

Editorial: Fixing Maine’s child care shortfalls should be a priority for the next Legislature

Nearly a quarter of Maine’s young children live in “child care deserts,” places where there are three children for every available child care slot. The percentage is even higher in rural areas.

Aroostook is among the four Maine counties classified as one of these deserts. At a recent town hall meeting in Caribou, child care providers said that without significant changes, Aroostook County could lose more providers, which could worsen workforce shortages by making it more difficult for parents to work or return to the workforce. The city has lost half of its early child care providers since 2014.

Even though there has been a significant increase in state financial support for child care, providers at the Sept. 15 meeting said that more state money was needed.

Increasingly, the math of child care doesn’t add up.

As we’ve written before, Maine’s child care market is broken. Parents, too often, can’t find or afford care for their young children. At the same time, those who operate child care centers struggle to retain staff, in part because they can’t afford to pay higher wages without charging parents more, which would put child care out of reach of more parents.

Because of these pressures and others, day care facilities are closing, in Maine and across the country. More than 170 day care operators in the state have closed since the pandemic began, the Portland Press Herald reported last year. This has left many parents – most often mothers – struggling to continue working without adequate child care.

We often don’t point to the government to solve market problems, but in the absence of other solutions, more government intervention may be needed to rebalance Maine’s child care market. This should be a focus for state lawmakers when they reconvene next year. Such work can be informed by the new assistant director for child care who will soon join the state’s Office of Child and Family Services.

Already, Maine has devoted more than $100 million to child care in the past year. Much of the funding has come from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act, money that helps states offset disruptions and other problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The child care money aims to help providers meet COVID protocols and to boost their workforces. The money can be used for payroll.

A new round of money will go to child care providers this month along with state funding for staffing that was approved by lawmakers this year. Up to $200 in monthly stipends will be available for each staff member who provides direct care.

The state is also using federal rescue funds for infrastructure grants to encourage new and expanded child care facilities and for training for child care workers.

Jordyn Rossignol, owner of Miss Jordyn’s Child Care and Preschool in Caribou and a candidate for the state Legislature, said at the town hall that she has lost more than 30 teachers since the start of the pandemic. She credited the ARPA funds for allowing her to increase wages for her staff. However, those funds, now supplemented by additional state funding, are only a short-term help.

“Those funds are the only reason I’ve been able to not raise tuition,” she said. “We’re not funded the way schools are, so we rely on tuition from parents.”

For families, Maine has a subsidy program, which began in the 1990s, that can cover up to 75 percent of child care costs for families that qualify. Providers at the Caribou forum, however, said that the rates the state pays to child care providers are too low to cover their costs.

Rossignol, for instance, said she receives a market-rate reimbursement of $148 weekly per full-time pre-K child covered by the subsidy, but it costs her $186 a week per child to operate those classrooms, including teacher wages and supplies. State law prevents her from charging parents who are part of the subsidy program the difference.

Federal COVID relief money has helped many child care providers stay open in recent years. But, the underlying pressures — a need to raise staff salaries, which is limited by how much parents are able to pay for care — will remain well into the future.

Finding a way to bridge that gap should be an urgent priority for the next Legislature.

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Boston Globe. September 26, 2022.

Editorial: As law-skirting practices evolve, the state’s gun laws must as well

The House is ready to lead on that challenge.

It’s not what you’d expect to happen here in Massachusetts, a strict gun-law state: a former mill in the Middlesex County town of Littleton has become a hive of gunmaker and gun-merchant activity.

As the Globe’s Sarah L. Ryley and Andrew Brinker report, the facility now houses more federally licensed gun manufacturers and sellers than any other site in the country — and the gun merchants seem to take considerable pleasure in finding ways to skirt the state’s gun laws.

One way they do so is by selling partially assembled guns or gun parts that, when put together, result in a so-called assault weapon, which are illegal in Massachusetts.

The enforcement problem there is that the state law banning those weapons excludes any “weapon that is not capable of firing a projectile” — and a partially assembled weapon doesn’t meet that threshold. Indeed, experts say that if law enforcement officers executed a search warrant and found that someone had one fully assembled assault weapon but all the components for another 25 or 50, he or she could currently only be charged for the single assembled firearm.

Whether state law is actually being broken remains a question. For its part, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office declined any comment on the Littleton facility.

The concentration of gun sellers in the warehouse is not in and of itself a problem. Indeed, it could even be said to mark a success of sorts for the state statute, which requires any seller who peddles more than four firearms a year to register as a federally licensed dealer (and thus perform background checks on buyers) and to have an actual brick-and-mortar address.

But if fully assembled assault weapons are outlawed in Massachusetts, it makes no sense that buyers can purchase some partly assembled pieces from one dealer and then go to another to get the additional components needed to finish it at home.

“Attorney General Healey has done more than any AG in America on gun safety issues,” says John Rosenthal, co-founder of Stop Handgun Violence. “It’s just that there are some big gaps in our law.”

House Speaker Ron Mariano said in a statement to the editorial board that several of the practices employed at the Mill’s gun shops were “extremely concerning” and reflected matters the House is already examining as it develops a new “omnibus” gun-safety bill planned for the next legislative session.

“Our proposal will consider everything from updating our firearm licensing and training framework, to clamping down on evolving technology designed to circumvent our safety laws, to refining tools that help identify individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others, among others,” he said.

Senate President Karen Spilka’s office issued a statement in which Spilka said she would “work with my colleagues to identify any gaps in our laws and to ensure that the laws we do have on the books remain fully effective in keeping residents safe.”

So what needs to be done?

For starters, the Legislature should write into law various aspects of Healey’s enforcement policy. Weapons that are essentially just copies of banned assault weapons but under a different name or by a different manufacturer should obviously also be illegal under state law. Second, gun sellers can’t simply remove one or more features of a weapon that otherwise qualifies as an assault weapon and by doing so legally exempt it from that category.

Beyond that, the Legislature needs to make it clear that selling partially assembled guns and leaving customers to complete the assembly themselves is not a legally acceptable work-around to the assault weapons ban. If the assembled gun is illegal to buy or sell, then its crucial components should be as well.

Next, the state should incorporate the federal definition of a silencer into its own silencer ban. Experts say the federal language is broader and more comprehensive, and thus a better legal tool against silencer kits or even homemade silencers.

Additionally, since every gun sold in Massachusetts, whether by a licensed dealer or a private seller, must have a recorded serial number, the law needs to be explicit that it is illegal to manufacture, sell, or possess a gun without a serial number or other identifying marks, also called a ghost gun, whether purchased partly assembled, in kit form, or made completely by oneself using a 3-D printer.

It’s encouraging to hear that the House is already working on this matter. The Senate should join energetically in that effort.

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Rutland Herald. September 28, 2022.

Editorial: Empty plate, empty promise

Recent data from the the United States Department of Agriculture shows one in seven Vermonters struggle with hunger. Nationwide, about 14.5% of American households remain food insecure. In Vermont, the numbers are similar — 85,000 Vermonters had difficulty at some time during the year in providing enough food for all their family members.

The pandemic revealed how real the struggle is for Vermonters. And local food shelves and community action councils only report renewed demand for their services when it comes to people going hungry.

President Joe Biden this week vowed his administration had set the goal of ending hunger in the U.S. by the end of the decade.

He agreed it is ambitious but doable but if only the nation works together toward achieving it. That leaves a lot of room for spreading the blame later.

“I know we can do this,” Biden told an auditorium full of public health officials, private companies and Americans who have experienced hunger.

For several months, the Biden administration has hosted listening sessions with hunger and nutrition groups, corporations, and federal agencies to help find ways to end hunger by 2030.

This week participants gathered for the first White House conference on hunger, nutrition and health since 1969.

According to news reports, the president sketched out a future when no child in the U.S. would go hungry, and diet-related diseases would diminish because of better, healthier food alternatives and access to vast outdoor spaces.

“That’s why we’re here today, to harness our greatest resource: Our fellow Americans,” Biden said. “Everyone, everyone has an important role to play.”

A similar push was made 50 years ago. At the 1969 conference hosted President Richard Nixon, the president called for policy changes that led to a major expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, and gave rise to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which serves half the babies born in the U.S. by providing their mothers with parenting advice, breastfeeding support and food assistance.

And yet, 10% of U.S. households in 2021 suffered food insecurity, meaning they were uncertain they could get enough food to feed themselves or their families because they lacked money or resources for food, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Scientific advances have helped Americans better understand how the foods they eat contribute to disease. One of the administration’s goals is to decrease obesity and diet-related disease like diabetes and hypertension through better promotion of healthy eating, good nutrition and physical activity.

The administration released a list of more than $8 billion in commitments to the cause from private companies, charitable foundations and industry groups. They range from outright donations to in-kind contributions of services and include:

— A $20 million commitment from the Novo Nordisk pharmaceutical company to improve access to healthy foods and safe spaces for physical activity in marginalized communities.

— A $3.85 million commitment from the Publix grocery store chain to supply food to local food banks and establish free mobile food pantries.

— $22 million from the Danone food company to fund a program to help “at least 300 million Americans to build healthier dietary habits.”

— A commitment from the Meijer grocery store chain to offer up to a 10% discount to incentivize users of the SNAP program to buy fruits and vegetables.

President Biden called on Congress, too, to revive and make permanent the expanded child tax credit that has expired. The number of children in America living in poverty jumped dramatically after just one month without the expanded child tax credit payment.

Our concern is the root of hunger here in Vermont. It comes down to affordability. It is expensive to pay for housing, heat, child care, day care and basic needs. Food often takes a back seat to other needs, which is a terrible compromise.

We need to make changes that help change the outcome.

Food banks are not a long-term fix to the hunger problem. Vermont and every state needs to come up with creative approaches that change factors like high rents and utilities and low wages.

Lofty goals only work if you can reach them. The steps need to have accountability and longevity behind them. We applaud the brain trust convened toward finding the answers. We bristle at the lack of solutions to put food on the table.

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Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus. September 24, 2022.

Editorial: It’s not over yet

Around Vermont, we all seem to know someone with COVID still.

So it is with cautious optimism, as the nip in the air changes the leaves and drives us inside more, we learned this week that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has signed off on Canada dropping the vaccine requirement for people entering the country at the end of September. Canada, like the United States, requires foreign nationals to be vaccinated when entering the country. No change in the mandate is expected in the U.S. in the near term.

Unvaccinated foreign travelers who are allowed to enter Canada are currently subject to mandatory arrival tests and a 14-day quarantine. Trudeau’s Liberal government is still deciding whether to maintain the requirement for passengers to wear face masks on trains and airplanes.

In addition, Hong Kong’s leader announced his city would no longer require incoming travelers to quarantine in designated hotels as it seeks to remain competitive and open up globally after nearly two years. Incoming travelers will also no longer need a negative PCR test within 48 hours before boarding a plane to Hong Kong, the city’s chief executive John Lee said Friday at a news conference. Instead, they will need to present a negative COVID-19 result from a rapid antigen test conducted within 24 hours before the flight. The measures will come into effect Monday.

And then there was President Joe Biden’s declaration on “60 Minutes” last weekend that the “pandemic is over.”

Except, it isn’t.

The Wall Street Journal aptly noted in its editorial this week that “COVID has become significantly less lethal as most people in the U.S. and world have gained some level of immunity from vaccination or infection. About 400 Americans each day have been dying from COVID this summer, but most are elderly or have other medical ailments. It’s still important to protect the vulnerable.”

So all of this shift in attitude has us wondering why?

It has to be about money. It has to be about the holiday greed of the fourth-quarter economic engine.

Some suggest that if COVID is really gone, we need to take next steps. Big next steps.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote, “If the pandemic is over, then so is the emergency. Yet the Administration continues to extend the public-health emergency that was first declared in January 2020. …The reason is almost certainly money. A March 2020 COVID law enables the government to hand out billions of dollars in welfare benefits to millions of people as long as the emergency is in effect. This includes more generous food stamps and a restriction on state work requirements.”

The Journal accused the president of wanting “to reassure Americans tired of restrictions on their way of life that the pandemic is over and they can get on with their lives. But he wants to retain the official emergency so he can continue to expand the welfare state and force states to comply. COVID can’t be an emergency only when it’s politically useful.”

As we have seen here in Vermont, with the rental assistance money being phased out, that kind of mindset is not going to work, and is going to create a different crisis altogether.

For now, we need to keep the course.

We understand that no one wants to go through another COVID winter. And chances are, we probably will not see the levels of grave concern that we have seen during the past two winters. But we must remain vigilant. And we must have supports in place that assume the pandemic is not over.

Fortunately, not everyone is buying the pandemic version of “Mission Accomplished.”

U.S. health officials say 4.4 million Americans have gotten the updated COVID-19 booster shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted the count Thursday. Health experts said it is too early to predict whether demand would match up with the 171 million doses of the new boosters the U.S. ordered for the fall.

But as we have seen: COVID is not going anywhere. And while borders and cities are opening, we still have to be smart about how we conduct ourselves, and taking appropriate preventive actions: Start by getting the booster.

Health officials report that some Americans who plan to get the shot, designed to target the most common omicron strains, said they are waiting because they either had COVID-19 recently or another booster. They are following public health advice to wait several months to get the full benefit of their existing virus-fighting antibodies. Others are scheduling shots closer to holiday gatherings and winter months when respiratory viruses spread more easily.

Regardless of reason, every Vermonter needs to take the necessary steps to protect themselves (and others) from tempting fate, and potentially spreading another variant of the virus.

By the way, did you get a flu shot yet?

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