Editorial Roundup: New England

Hearst Connecticut Media. September 14, 2021.

Editorial: 4 reasons CT still needs Gov. Lamont’s emergency powers

It’s still too early to end Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency powers, though it seems a lifetime since the legislature first granted him sweeping authority to fight the pandemic. Four people still die every day on average from COVID-19 in Connecticut, and hundreds remain hospitalized. The positivity rate is up. There are chilling signs of COVID spreading among children and of an even more transmissible variant popping up.

The governor’s emergency powers end this month. Unless the legislature extends them another three or more months, he’ll be unable to:

Continue requiring that all possible K-12 schoolteachers and early-childhood staff get vaccinated. Why does this matter? Because kids now represent 29% of all COVID cases nationwide.

Continue requiring that all possible workers in nursing homes and adult day care centers get vaccinated. Why is this important? Because nearly 3,000 nursing home residents in Connecticut have died from COVID-19.

Continue requiring that all possible state employees get vaccinated. Why bother? Because the coronavirus is sweeping through state prisons, among other places. At least 4,700 offenders have tested positive, and 43 staff are recovering from it.

Continue requiring masks in public K-12 schools. Why make kids mask up? Because 25,000 Connecticut children have gotten infected. The number of children hospitalized in the U.S. with COVID-19 hit a record high of more than 1,900 cases this past month. And yes, studies prove that masks do protect.

In the 18 months since Lamont began issuing emergency executive orders, he’s never abused his authority. Also, legislative leaders have the power to reject any of his pandemic-related orders. It’s doubtful the legislature could have passed such life-saving rules quickly, if at all. Plus, legislators have been happy to let the governor take the heat from fringe groups that don’t believe in science.

Now 82% of Connecticut residents 12 and up are fully vaccinated — compared with Florida’s 63% vaccination rate. In the Sunshine State, deaths are at their highest levels ever — 350 a day on average — in no small part because Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis won’t allow the sort of vaccine and mask requirements that Connecticut has.

Republican legislators argue that Gov. Lamont’s emergency powers are no longer needed. If only that were true.

There were 327 people hospitalized with coronavirus in Connecticut as of Monday, and 72 of them were not fully vaccinated. Imagine how that number would rise if the governor’s vaccine mandates weren’t in place. (See Florida, above.)

It’s true that the governor has had these extraordinary powers a long time, since March 2020. At that time, only 4,291 people worldwide had lost their lives from COVID-19. A year and a half later, 1,000 times that number have died from the disease — 4.6 million people.

Today, the delta variant is now the threat, accounting for 99% of Connecticut’s cases. But the mu variant is on the rise. Connecticut has had 73 mu cases as of Sept. 5. “Connecticut has one of the nation’s highest rates of the mu variant,” says Hartford Healthcare.

It’s too soon to relax our guard, and it’s doubtful the legislature could keep in place the policies that are protecting most of us from COVID. Give the governor another three months at least, please.

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Boston Globe. September 15, 2021.

Editorial: Massachusetts is stuck in the Prohibition era on liquor licenses

The Legislature won’t let go of its reins over liquor licensing. But pandemic recovery demands that it do so.

As Massachusetts looks for a pandemic rebound, it has become clear that restaurants, in addition to being a source of employment, are an important tool of economic development. The ability to serve a craft cocktail or glass of beer or wine is often a lifeline for those establishments.

Who didn’t love cocktails-to-go — especially if that quickly passed change in state law helped keep a favorite local joint in business? That assumed, however, the local bistro had a liquor license. As tough as things were, they were already the lucky ones. But starting a new restaurant in the current atmosphere without a liquor license — well, that’s an added degree of difficulty.

The process of expanding the number of liquor licenses throughout the state — a process that remains both antiquated and remarkably arcane — is controlled nearly exclusively on Beacon Hill. And surely this won’t come as a shock: That’s the way many lawmakers like it.

Every year — even one in the middle of a pandemic — the legislative calendar is crowded with local-option bills to provide for, say, seven more liquor licenses for Wareham, and a few for Concord or Webster. The local representative or senator is all too happy to shoulder the burden — and take some credit for a job well done. And the bills are rarely, if ever, turned down.

But it is long past time to streamline the system — and allow communities to make their own decisions about what the right number of licenses is for that city or town without going begging to Beacon Hill. A number of bills to force that shift were given a hearing Monday by the Legislature’s Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.

“It’s simply that we and this committee oftentimes hold the state of economic development in a community in our hands,” Representative Joseph McKenna of Webster told the committee. “It’s difficult and unfortunate that a restaurant needs an okay (for a liquor license) from the Legislature when everything else is moving forward.”

He said he filed his bill (along with 10 cosponsors) to shift that power to communities so they can control their own economic destinies.

More than a half-dozen other bills, including one filed by Senator Jamie Eldridge of Acton, have a similar object. A few, but not all, of those bills would specifically make those new licenses nontransferable. In other words, the license cannot be bought or sold as an asset of the restaurant if that restaurant folds or is sold to new owners.

That — especially in a city like Boston, which has made use of nontransferable licenses — is the best hope for bringing new restaurant ventures to under-served neighborhoods like Mattapan. And that means using those licenses as a tool for economic justice.

When licenses are scarce — and those that are transferable remain a scarce commodity — they are, of course, valuable and, therefore, expensive. But again, that can and should be an issue to be solved at the local level. What works for Boston may not be right for Worcester, but isn’t that for Worcester to decide?

The state’s current liquor laws date back to 1933 — yes, that would be just at the end of Prohibition, which kind of explains a lot. A task force appointed by Treasurer Deb Goldberg — whose office oversees the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission — assigned to study that law concluded, “Given the number of cities and towns filing legislation seeking more licenses . . . it appears that the 1933 density formula no longer makes sense.”

The report added, “Quota critics further argue that the legislative process to secure additional licenses is time consuming, unnecessary, and often results in a loss of real estate development projects seeking alcohol licenses.”

That was in 2017. Nothing has changed — except, of course, that more local petitions have been filed year after year at the State House, requiring 200 legislators to consider the heady question of whether Concord needs four more beer and wine licenses.

At a time when the pandemic has forced lawmakers to take a fresh look at everything from election laws to health care, this relatively small change — this tiny relinquishing of legislative power — could make a big economic difference in communities across the state and make for a speedier economic recovery.

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Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. September 14, 2021.

Editorial: Hard work to come

One interesting outcome from the ongoing pandemic is that, at least according to the federal government, the share of people living in poverty in the United States fell to a record low last year.

The cause: Government aid through relief programs, unemployment benefits and stimulus money.

In the latest and most conclusive evidence that poverty fell because of government aid, the Census Bureau reported that median household income in 2020 decreased 2.9% between 2019 and 2020, and the official poverty rate increased 1 percentage point. Median household income was $67,521 in 2020, a decrease of 2.9% from the 2019 median of $69,560. This is the first statistically significant decline in median household income since 2011.

Between 2019 and 2020, the real median earnings of all workers decreased by 1.2%, while the real median earnings of full-time, year-round workers increased 6.9%. The total number of people with earnings decreased by about 3 million, while the number of full-time, year-round workers decreased by approximately 13.7 million.

The official poverty rate in 2020 was 11.4%, up 1% from 2019. This is the first increase in poverty after five consecutive annual declines. In 2020, there were 37.2 million people in poverty, approximately 3.3 million more than in 2019.

Meanwhile the percentage of people with health insurance coverage for all or part of 2020 was 91.4%. An estimated 8.6% of people, or 28.0 million, did not have health insurance at any point during 2020, according to the 2021 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Private health insurance coverage continued to be more prevalent than public coverage, at 66.5% and 34.8%, respectively. Some people may have more than one coverage type during the calendar year. Of the subtypes of health insurance, employment-based insurance was the most common subtype, covering 54.4% of the population for some or all of the calendar year.

According to a report on the New York Times website Tuesday afternoon, “The new data will almost surely feed into a debate in Washington about efforts by President Joe Biden and congressional leaders to enact a more lasting expansion of the safety net. Democrats’ $3.5 trillion plan, which is still taking shape, could include paid family and medical leave, government-supported child care and a permanent expansion of the Child Tax Credit.”

The report goes on to state, “Liberals cited the success of relief programs last year, which were also highlighted in an Agriculture Department report last week that showed that hunger did not rise in 2020, to argue that such policies ought to be continued and expanded. But conservatives argue that higher federal spending is not needed and would increase the federal debt while discouraging people from working.”

The report in the Times indicates the fact that poverty did not rise more during an enormous economic disruption reflects the equally enormous government response. Congress expanded unemployment benefits and food aid, doled out hundreds of billions of dollars to small businesses and sent direct checks to most American families. The Census Bureau estimated that the direct checks alone lifted 11.7 million people out of poverty last year, and that unemployment benefits prevented 5.5 million people from falling into poverty.

It is an appreciable shift, there is no question.

According to the census data, among those who kept their jobs, 2020 was a good year financially: Median earnings for full-time year-round workers rose 6.9%, adjusted for inflation. The government defines poverty as an income below about $13,000 for an individual, or about $26,000 for a family of four.

That is all good news, statistically.

But the broader question for Vermont — and, frankly, every state — is how does it translate into the broader economic picture. We all understand it is the fulcrum on which an extremist political debate will continue to ensue. But now we have to be looking for more permanent solutions to the tough issues of poverty in this nation — not the ones that can be fixed through handouts and printing more money.

It goes without saying that organizations that provide support for these vulnerable citizens and communities have been trying to advocate for and come up with long-term solutions long before this week’s report. Now, the work to lift individuals out of poverty really begins.

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Manchester Journal Inquirer. September 14, 2021.

Editorial: Teacher’s statements are not consistent with actions

Jennifer Tafuto, a Manchester second-grade teacher, decided to submit her resignation this year. “After only six years in Connecticut, I decided to resign from what I thought would be my forever career because I felt more like a political activist than a teacher in my own classroom,” Tafuto said.

In an interesting twist, Tafuto said this in a video posted by 1776 Action, a right-wing group that claims to stop “anti-American” indoctrination of our children and grandchildren. It is also somewhat ironic that the 1776 group supports former President Donald Trump’s calls to “restore patriotic education.”

In any event, it seems that Tafuto’s reluctance to becoming a political activist has not lasted long since her resignation, as she also was interviewed by Fox News.

And Tafuto continued her “nonpolitical” career by telling Daily Caller that she “didn’t sign up to be a revolutionary.”

Perhaps not, but these claims that she did not want to be a political activist ring hollow when we see Tafuto’s activism on these right-wing media outlets.

We might respect her stand if her statements were consistent with her actions.

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Hartford Courant. September 10, 2021.

Editorial: Twenty years after 9/11, we are more divided, more fearful, more vulnerable. And we are letting the terrorists win

On a surreal, sultry October night in 2001, the Yankees came back to the Bronx tied at two games apiece with the Oakland A’s in a playoff series delayed by the 9/11 attacks. The Yankees had been down 2-0 but battled back to force a deciding game, a moment that galvanized the hopes of a battered city. We would survive. We would prevail. We would show the world that the power of what unites us as a nation is greater than the fear sown by the attacks.

When the crowd rose for the national anthem, one man stood but didn’t take off his hat. Why he didn’t isn’t clear, nor does it really matter. It’s not uncommon for people to simply stand up and leave their hats on at a baseball game when the Star Spangled banner is played. People were still finding their way to their seats, lined up at the concession stands for hot dogs and beer. But on this particular night, that man’s actions elicited an angry response.

“Take your (obscenity) hat off,” a man in the crowd yelled.

No response.

“Take. Your. F———. Hat. Off.” Louder this time.

Nothing.

So instead of solemnly listening to the Star Spangled Banner, for everyone within earshot the moment was shattered by one person who decided that his version of patriotism was right and that he was within his rights to berate someone with, perhaps, a different interpretation. Or, in this case, maybe someone who simply forgot to take off a baseball cap.

In hindsight, it was a frighteningly prescient moment.

The attacks of 9/11 left us staggered and afraid. A foreign attack of that magnitude on U.S. soil was so beyond our experience that it stripped clean our veneer of American invulnerability, leaving exposed a fearful and unsure nation. Never before had this happened. Never again, we resolved, would we allow it to happen.

We remembered, and still remember, the 3,000 souls lost that day: Men and women who’d gone to work at the World Trade Center, passengers on Flight 93, the government workers at the Pentagon who were killed, the first responders who came to the rescue. Every year, on Sept. 11, we say their names.

And we told stories about the heroes, the police officers and firefighters who charged into the doomed towers, climbing toward the sky to save lives as the building burned around them. If the attack had left us broken and fearful, the stories of heroism lifted us up. Could there be a more selfless act of community and patriotism than risking almost certain death to save the lives of others?

But while we mourned the dead and saluted the heroes, a different narrative was taking shape beneath the surface. The horror of the attacks never left us. It chipped away at our sense of well being, the fear of that day becoming a force that continued to grow within our collective memory, sometimes ignored, often exploited, always dangerous.

Fear does horrible things to a person; it can be catastrophic when it takes hold of a people. Fear led us into an ill-advised war against Iraq, the specter of “weapons of mass destruction” blinding us to the truth. Fear led us to an incursion into Afghanistan, the consequences of which we are still grappling with today. Fear made us want to hurt someone back, even if we were targeting the wrong people.

But the less obvious and, perhaps, more persistent consequence of that fear was how it fueled the rise of tribalism and divisiveness that has become the defining dynamic of American society in the 21st century.

Granted, there are other factors here: The toxic stew of social media, growing social and economic inequality, the partisan preaching of cable news networks and the rise of Trumpism all played a role in the sad place we find ourselves today. Perhaps we’d be in the same mess had the attacks of 9/11 not taken place.

But not likely.

Over the last two decades, as the fear of that horrible day has grown within us, we have retreated to safe ground, surrounding ourselves with people who think as we do, believe as we do, see the world as we do. And over time, the effects have been unmistakable. Now we avoid people who think differently from us, trash the beliefs of those with whom we disagree and blame those who see the world differently for various ills.

On Sept. 11, 2001 we were a nation at war with terrorism. On Sept. 11, 2021 we are a nation at war with ourselves.

Fear often lies at the heart of human spirit’s worst moments and the last two decades have seen a dramatic erosion of our collective belief in the promise of America. Now, as tribalism trumps reason, the debate over vaccines has become a debate over “freedom,” Congress is attacked in a twisted effort to protect democracy and the flag is too often brandished as a weapon in the widening culture wars. Donald Trump may have stoked and exacerbated these divisions, but he did not create them.

Two decades have past and here is our reality: We are divided. We are angry. We are still afraid.

The United States today is too often a place where everyone is telling everyone else to “take their fucking hat off.” It’s a place where people are so consumed with their own version of what’s right that truth has taken a back seat to tearing down anyone who has a different version. It is, sadly, a place where fear has become more present than hope.

The terrorists did not succeed with the death and destruction of that day, but we have handed them a victory by allowing ourselves to be governed by the worst within ourselves rather than the best. Great societies often fall when internal fractures so weaken the whole that they are vulnerable to attack.

We may tell ourselves we are safer than we were 20 years ago.

But we’d be wrong.

END