Editorials from around New England:
Objections welcome, but not time for rebellion
The Stamford Advocate
As Connecticut residents have held their breaths for months — some behind masks, some not — it was inevitable that many would eventually exhale bitter frustration.
Some acts of rebellion against government mandates have taken the appropriate course. Stamford attorney Lindy Urso, who lives in Greenwich, filed a lawsuit in April that charges Gov. Ned Lamont with infringing on individual liberties by requiring residents to wear face coverings while in public spaces.
While we don’t support the lawsuit — which can only serve to consume precious state funds — Urso is following the letter of the law.
So did the owners of a New Haven bar who filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Lamont’s closure of bars and restaurants.
Our concern is that others may be on the brink of less civil actions.
Bridgeport Councilwomen Eneida Martinez is calling for the largest city in the state to defy the governor’s gradual phase-in and open all of its doors to business.
Martinez isn’t simply speaking as an elected official, she has coin in the game. Under Lamont’s schedule, she has been able to operate her Latin and Soul Food Café, which is primarily a to-go restaurant. But she says her other investment, as a partner in Keystone strip club and bar, is in jeopardy.
She isn’t calling for ignorance of social distancing, but maintains her club could open with safety protocols.
While there is something surreal about the concept of strippers wearing masks and maintaining six feet from one another, Martinez is expressing an opinion that is not unique. Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun are leveraging their status as being run by sovereign nations to dismiss the governor’s advice.
Others have expressed their dissatisfaction by raising their voices in public. Protestors at some barber shops and salons around the state waved American flags and signs bearing the words “Don’t Tread on Me.” A Branford salon owner declared Lamont’s leadership a “dictatorship.”
Yes, Connecticut’s former “Still Revolutionary” tagline has taken on a different meaning in some parts.
What these cases hold in common is a desire to save livelihoods. The New Haven bar owners were clear in the lawsuit — which has been rejected by a U.S. district judge — that they could be forced out of business.
That ruling alone doesn’t bode well for Martinez’s proposal, which she made to her 19 council colleagues, Mayor Joe Ganim and the City of Bridgeport’s law department.
Many owners are on the brink of shuttering their businesses. Others already surrendered. All deserve empathy. But while Martinez is merely reflecting the voice of some constituents, Ganim, Lamont and their colleagues and peers must take care to ensure rules are followed.
As Martinez made her pitch, 166 Bridgeport residents had already died of the virus. The death toll in the state was at 3,769 Wednesday.
Elected leaders throughout Connecticut need to respect the rules. To disregard them can only lead to anarchy, which is never a cure.
Trump hits new low on Twitter
The Republican of Springfield
This space doesn’t usually get into specifics related to President Trump’s Twitter antics. There are too many policy issues on which to focus. But the President’s Twitter rants accusing MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of murdering an intern when he served in Congress in 2001 are beyond anything that we have seen in the past.
While the twitter posts on Scarborough appeared six times over the last month, they have been escalating. This is what Trump posted on May 12: “When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so. Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn’t it obvious? What’s happening now? A total nut job!”
Scarborough has been a frequent critic of the president. The intern, Lori Klausutis, died of a heart condition that caused her to collapse and hit her head on a desk. The police found no evidence of foul play subsequent to her death, and Trump has introduced no new evidence.
Lori’s widower, Timothy Klausutis, recently wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey asking for the tweets to be removed. Klausutis wrote: “ I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him – the memory of my dead wife – and perverted it for perceived political gain.”
Dorsey has refused to remove the posts. At Twitter’s annual meeting on Wednesday, a shareholder asked Dorsey about removing the tweets. While Dorsey said they feel horrible about what the Klausutis family is going through, “we also believe that it’s important that people have conversations around what’s happening, especially with our global leaders, that they can push back, that they can speak truth to power, that they can share and show why this particular behavior is not right, and not just.”
Twitter’s decision not to delete the posts have merit and are understandable, but Trump’s smear campaign against Scarborough, and the subsequent pain felt by the Klausutis family, are not conversations about “what’s happening.”
Trump has continually demeaned the office of the presidency with his behavior on Twitter. Just when it is thought Trump has stooped to a new low, he continues to go lower. And all of this is happening shortly after we reached 100,000 deaths from coronavirus.
Maine is left on its own as hunger rises
Maine has one of the highest rates of hunger even in the best of times. It is also one of the states most vulnerable to the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus.
Yet when it comes to the food aid program created as part of the federal government’s response to the pandemic, Maine is on its own.
The state will see almost nothing from the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture has hired private contractors to distribute fresh food to food banks, churches and other nonprofits.
In the first round of the $3 billion program, $1.2 billion was handed over to distributers, but just $46 million went to the Northeast region, which includes New York and New England, one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus, ProPublica reported last week.
No companies that distribute in Maine received funding, leaving the state’s already scrambling food aid organizations to fend for themselves.
The oversight doesn’t appear intentional, but a byproduct of moving quickly to get aid out — and of the decision to distribute the funds to the private contractors rather than food banks themselves. The USDA appears to have selected contractors based on the prices of their bids alone, failing to make sure that all areas of the country would be covered by someone in the program.
At least one Maine company applied. Native Maine Produce & Specialty Foods’ application was rejected, the company was told, because of a missing signature that the company maintains is on their completed application.
Meanwhile, some companies with little or no experience distributing food were awarded bids.
That leaves Maine and Alaska as the only states not served by the program.
It is a bad time for our state to be left out. Prior to the pandemic, nearly 14% of residents didn’t have reliable access to enough healthy food, the 12th-highest rate in the country.
Since then, more than 138,000 Mainers have applied for unemployment insurance, a historically high number that doesn’t even reflect the true financial losses experienced by many residents. And that’s before the true toll is felt from the loss of a regular summer tourist season, when so many businesses make the bulk of their earnings.
Good Shepherd Food Bank, the state’s largest food bank with more than 500 partners, said there has been a 35% increase in demand for aid, with the number of families served tripling in some spots. Food cupboards are seeing people they haven’t seen in a while, or previously at all.
At the same time that need is increasing, donations are way down, particularly for healthier, fresher foods. In a typical year, Good Shepherd spends about $1.5 million to buy food, in addition to all the donations it receives. However, the organization told the Press Herald it spent $1 million in one recent 10-day period. All told, the group believes it will need $6.3 million extra in funding this year to fill the gap by rising demand and fewer food donations.
The state can’t fill that massive gap on its own, even with the heroic work of food cupboards, volunteers and other supporters.
Amanda Beal, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, has asked the USDA to reopen bids for the program so that Maine distributors can take part. If Maine’s exclusion was the result of bad luck and bureaucracy, they should have no trouble granting the request.
Hunger in Maine is bad and getting worse. If help is needed anywhere, it’s here.
While we Americans were paying tribute to our fallen heroes during Memorial Day weekend, observant Muslims here and abroad were marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Even in Afghanistan, there was a pause in hostilities between government and Taliban forces.
It came as U.S. and Taliban negotiators continued the lengthy process of devising a pact whereby American forces are withdrawn from the country.
During the negotiations, Taliban troops have refrained from attacks on U.S. and NATO forces — but not from assaulting the Afghan government and people.
Taliban leaders are trying hard to convince U.S. negotiators that the hardline repression of the past will not be repeated. Once they are back in power, the Taliban will respect the rights of women and will be more tolerant in general, Americans are being told.
In fact, Taliban officials say, they will be an ally in our battle against terrorist organizations such as ISIS. For those who recall the reason the Taliban were ousted from power — providing a haven for Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network — such assurances may be difficult to believe.
But they simply must be the foundation of any agreement between the Taliban and the United States. Assisting terrorists in any way would be a deal-breaker. That is true now, while talks are going on, and the Taliban must be made to understand it will be an ongoing commitment. Any deviance from it after U.S. forces leave Afghanistan would bring immediate, dramatic reaction from our country.
Americans cannot act as the world’s policeman. Persuading those of other cultures to adopt our forms of government is a fool’s errand. We have learned that.
But refraining from activities intended to harm Americans is non-negotiable. Only if that is understood and accepted can a satisfactory agreement between the Taliban and the United States be reached.
In good hands
One of the opportunities that has come from the challenge of this pandemic is a renewed interest in local produce, meats and other Vermont-made products. It is a most welcome trend. The movement has farmers eager to see just how prosperous this growing season might be.
An article by Shane Rogers of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund has been circulating in recent days. Specifically, it speaks to the younger generation of farmers here. Rogers is the communications manager for VSJF.
“As it stands right now, 15% of the 6,808 farms in Vermont have a young operator’ — age 35 or below — working on the farm,” Rogers writes. “These farms steward 256,363 of the 1,193,437 farmland acres in the state and are responsible for 30% of the $781 million total market value that agriculture creates in Vermont. While the contributions of young farmers are not insignificant, there still remains 937,074 acres of land that don’t have a young operator involved in the farming of that land, with over 15% of those farmers being 75 years old or older.”
He posits a tough question: Is farming even still a viable career for a young person?
Rogers looks at the burdens that come with being a young farmer, going well beyond the high cost of farming, as well as the challenges of climate change and extreme weather events. He points to the burden of student loans, skyrocketing health care costs and child care considerations.
He maintains those are not deterrents: “Whether it’s for the love of the land and working outdoors, an affinity for animals and plants, or a belief in creating a food system that works for everyone, they’re dedicating their careers and lives to making farming work in Vermont among the ever-changing landscape of our food system,” he writes.
Rogers points to how young farmers use social media not just to market their products but to share their struggles and successes. He maintains that the younger generation of tech savvy farmers is creating a community — online as well as physically. It creates both a following and a support network — and a brain trust when it comes to troubleshooting and best practices.
Younger farmers also are pivoting to changes in the traditional business model, often dividing their operation into thirds: CSAs, farmers’ markets and wholesale production.
He points to younger farmers’ willingness in this day and age to pull from the expertise of others.
Experts are working with the younger owners to help in business planning, transfer planning, enterprise development and cash flow analysis. “Part of the job also involves not pulling any punches,” Rogers notes.
That is yielding growing success.
“(W)hether it’s for new and beginning farmers or old hands of the trade, is to identify viable entrepreneurship in the agriculture sector and help that to flourish. And when it comes to doing that, while he appreciates folks’ principles for getting into growing food in the first place, he takes a very practical approach to it all,” he writes of one young farmer’s experience.
Hurdles remain, Rogers writes. “These issues can range from an increase in land pressure for nonagriculture use that drives up prices and threatens the very working landscape that Vermont has built its brand around; to an aging Vermont farming population that are remiss to see their farms run in different ways; or such other issues such as student debt, health care, retirement savings and housing concerns,” he noted.
Similarly, Rogers notes, for young people who want to get into farming, especially those coming with backgrounds not steeped in agricultural, “the skill set needed for the career can sometimes be difficult to grow. While working on a farm is certainly the most direct way to start building a résumé in that regard, pay can be low, the work is mostly seasonal and with the general hustle and bustle of the farm, it’s difficult for farmer-owners to find time to explain the decisions they’re making to their staff.”
But it is encouraging. And to answer his question, it is viable.
“As the next generation of farmers prepares to step into the shoes of generation’s past, there are plenty of issues that still need to be resolved in order to preserve the working landscape and ensure agriculture remains a viable industry in Vermont. However, when it comes to answering whether farming can still be considered a viable career for young people in the state, there appears to be hope on the horizon.”
At a time when hope has felt remote, we should feel very good that our farms are in good, young hands.