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Editorial Roundup: New England

Hartford Courant. September 19, 2021.

Hartford Courant. September 19, 2021.

Editorial: In Guilford, making white people afraid and bashing ‘critical race theory’ proves a winning political strategy

School board primaries rarely get much attention, but this year’s Republican Board of Education primary in Guilford was notable for the central issue that pitted a group of political newcomers against more established incumbents: how race is being taught in public schools.

A contingent of activist candidates seized on the debate over “critical race theory,” arguing — incorrectly — that the efforts underway across schools to better teach how racism and racial attitudes have shaped American culture and society are detrimental and divisive.

They won. Five activists — Aly Passarelli, Tim Chamberlain, Nick Cusano, Danielle Scarpiello and Bill Maisano — who made criticism of the Guilford public schools the centerpiece of their campaign, ousted Republican incumbents for the right to represent the GOP in the general election in November. The debate is not Guilford‘s alone; it’s happening elsewhere across the nation and in Connecticut, where the same divide has cropped up in other communities, including Glastonbury and New Canaan.

The message that underlies the arguments of the anti-Critical Race Theory crowd comes cloaked in the veneer of evenhandedness. In a Facebook message, they said they welcome instruction that offers “an honest, balanced view of our history and society,” while rejecting “attempts to use our schools to divide our children by race and political views.”

But the people fomenting division are these candidates, who — like so many others across the country right now — are turning to one of the oldest political tricks in the book: white fear.

The public message they will continue to sell is clear: White children are being made to feel bad, feel guilty. The subtext is no less obvious: The white-centric view of American history, of economics and culture is under attack. And if you are white, you are under attack as well.

This is an old song in a new wrapper. It’s George Bush evoking the specter of Willy Horton. It’s Donald Trump calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers. Make white people afraid of losing the power, their privilege, their wealth and win an election. It’s no coincidence these arguments are taking place in upscale, largely white communities.

“Often they don’t really understand what it is, or they are deliberately trying to misinterpret what it is,” Ronald C. Schurin, a professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, told Courant Reporter Daniela Altimari. “There are people who argue that the focus is not just on a very legitimate examination on the role of race and racial discrimination in American history but rather a reinterpretation of all American history (through the lens of) racial justice.”

The Republican school board primary in Guilford had incredibly high turnout — a testament not only to the effectiveness of the white fear strategy but the fervor of those who embrace this misguided approach. It is incumbent, therefore, on the more moderate forces in the Republican Party to seize back control of their party, to deliver an unequivocal message that they stand against hate and division.

There is nothing to fear from a more honest and complete view of American history, to studying atrocities like the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 and the Tuskegee experiments. This is not just Black history; it’s American history. Learn from the past. Commit to do better. There should be nothing scary about that.

But those who are peddling hate and fear, who know that one of the best ways to get high turnout is by making white people afraid, are dangerous. It is they we should fear. Their time in the spotlight needs to come to an end.

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Hearst Connecticut Media. September 24, 2021.

Editorial: From legal pot to sports betting, CT’s newest laws come with a lot of fine print

Some of the new Connecticut laws taking effect Oct. 1 serve as evidence that transformative changes in the state are taking place despite the COVID-19 pandemic dominating the attention of lawmakers and residents alike for the past 18 months.

Some, such as the legalization of recreational marijuana, got a boost from the state’s simple need to create new revenue streams. Others, like barring employers from asking job applicants their age, seem so practical as to be decades overdue in execution. The same goes for new laws that expand rules for when drivers must yield to pedestrians.

These laws will affect some Connecticut residents more than others, but they will impact all lives. They range in spirit from changing the landscape of recreational habits to striving toward a stricter balance of personal justice.

As they fall into the recreational category, sports gambling and recreational marijuana have drawn most of the headlines. In both cases, potential consumers could reasonably be confused by how both are being launched.

So don’t go shopping for pot in Connecticut Oct. 1. The state is still working out details regarding regulations and licensing, thus the slow rollout.

Patients who use medicinal marijuana will be permitted to start growing their own on that date, with permission to harvest as many as six plants (12 maximum per household). Recreational users can’t follow suit until July 2023, when it will be permitted for anyone over 21.

Then there is the question of where marijuana can be smoked. Municipalities with populations higher than 50,000 are required to designate areas for pot smoking. In the absence of guidance from the General Assembly, the 17 cities and towns in that category (including Greenwich and Fairfield) have challenging decisions to make about where to put them. They could pop up like dog parks. Hopefully, some communities can establish best practices for others to follow.

One of the unabashed ironies of Connecticut finally legalizing marijuana is that is is simultaneously amping up efforts to discourage the inhaling of tobacco smoke and vape. Traditional smokers will have to read more fine print than ever. Starting Oct. 1, they cannot smoke within 25 feet of any building used by the general public. That’s not just schools and municipal centers, but restaurants and the local coffee shop.

Anyone interested in sports gambling could probably start a pool guessing the launch date. Oct. 7 has been floated as the likely Opening Day, as the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes along with the Connecticut Lottery Corp. are working to get the paperwork filed to unveil online sportsbooks on that date, in time for an NFL game between the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams. But predicting timing of federal approval is not a safe bet. Meanwhile, Connecticut is anxious to steal some income from its rival as Massachusetts fumbles with betting legislation.

If the launch of these laws seems a fuzzy, it’s hardly surprising given that the pandemic has lingered. But lawmakers need to be watchdogs in the weeks ahead to be prepared to propose and debate tweaks as needed.

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Boston Globe. September 24, 2021.

Editorial: Vaccine passports are the ticket back to normal

Governor Baker needs to take a hint from the private sector and sign on to a verifiable digital solution.

For hockey and basketball fans eager to experience a game live and in person, cheering with fellow fans just like the good old days, the requirement to produce proof of vaccination (or a negative COVID test) is a small price to pay.

But checking some 17,000 to 18,000 pieces of paper and photo IDs — in addition to the usual bag check — isn’t exactly going to be a piece of cake for TD Garden employees tasked with the job or for the patrons in line at game time.

The Garden is absolutely doing the right thing in requiring proof of vaccination. And it certainly isn’t alone among sports and performance venues around the state.

Symphony Hall is implementing a vaccination requirement. More than a dozen theaters in the Boston area, including the Huntington and the American Repertory Theater, have announced they would require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test as they reopen. And a host of live music venues like City Winery, Club Café, and Club Passim check those vax cards at the door.

But as vaccination requirements increasingly become the ticket back to normal, as they become just another part of doing business, it behooves the public sector to make the job of checking the authenticity of those vaccinations easier. And that means some form of uniform vaccine “passport” — a QR code, a chip, some kind of digital proof that the bearer has indeed gotten the requisite number of shots.

And that’s where this state, despite being a leader in technology, has fallen behind the curve.

Governor Charlie Baker confirmed in an interview on GBH News’s “Boston Public Radio” last week that his administration has been exploring the concept of vaccine passports by talking with leaders in other jurisdictions that have implemented them “and working through how that would work here in the Commonwealth.”

“Getting to the point where there’s a relatively simple process for people to credential the fact that they’ve been vaccinated will be important for a whole bunch of reasons,” Baker said.

Well, indeed it would — that upcoming Bruins opener at the Garden being a conspicuous case in point.

Those somewhat awkward (whatever happened to wallet-sized?) but much-valued official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cards are fairly easily counterfeited — although misspelling Moderna remains a major forgery faux pas. Even the honest among us live in mortal fear of losing the thing and having to go back to a health care provider for new proof of vaccination.

It doesn’t have to be that way — and, yes, there is an app for that.

Israel’s so-called Green passport, basically a cellphone app, was launched last February. Updates will allow it to document not just vaccinations but negative COVID tests as well.

New York State’s Excelsior pass, in use since April, is a QR code that can be stored on a smartphone or printed out. Its second-generation version launched in August.

Similar “passes” are already in use in California and Louisiana. They use the SMART Health Card standard for digital vaccine certificates, based on technology developed right here at Boston Children’s Hospital.

One of that standard’s supporters, JP Pollak, cofounder of The Commons Project, a global nonprofit, told Globe technology writer Hiawatha Bray, “We’ve gotten most of the big health care technology vendors in the country (signed up). We’ve got most of the big pharmacy chains, all of the key health systems. Several states have agreed to adopt this particular standard.”

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Boston Herald. September 23, 2021.

Editorial: Mass and Cass is not just Boston’s problem

The opioid crisis is not limited to the Methadone Mile.

Substance abuse and the homelessness that often accompanies it are not confined to Boston’s city limits.

It’s a city problem, a regional problem, a statewide scourge.

Fighting it calls for an all-hands-on-deck approach, and while some ideas are being hashed out among the mayoral candidates, one proposal has moved to the front burner: Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s plan to convert a hotel in Revere to a transitional homeless center.

Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo was not happy.

“I am disappointed in the Boston Public Health Commission’s operations, communications, and accountability measures — or lack thereof — as they concern its ‘regional’ plan to address the disaster on Melnea Cass Boulevard by converting the Quality Inn Hotel at 100 Morris Street, Revere, to a homeless transitional center. I am deeply concerned about the chaotic nature of disinformation and have lost all confidence in the Boston Public Health Commission to thoughtfully execute on an issue of such regional public importance,” he reportedly wrote to the executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission.

Perhaps the execution was less than thoughtful, this is not the sort of thing one springs on a neighboring mayor.

However, the move itself is a good one, surprise or no.

One of the “benefits” of the Methadone Mile is that it works to contain a very large problem within the city of Boston.

Last year, CBS Boston reported on COVID-19’s effect on the opioid crisis here.

“They’re pouring in from everywhere,” said Sue Sullivan, the executive director of the Newmarket Business Association.

Then-City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George said the Hub is bearing the brunt of a statewide problem.

“More than 60% of the people seeking support services one way or another are not from the city of Boston originally,” she said.

So why should Boston shoulder most of the burden?

Beds for the homeless, a plan for treatment and beyond, these are vital steps to stem the tide of the substance abuse crisis.

Cities and towns close to Boston, and further out, should be willing to step up to the plate by repurposing buildings as homeless shelters and filling some of their unoccupied hotels with former residents of Mass and Cass.

The hotel plan could be filed under How Not to Deal With a Neighboring Mayor, but the thought behind the proposal is sound.

The addicts and homeless people on Mass and Cass are not human flotsam ravaged by a disease and misery, they’re folks from all over the Bay State.

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Rutland Herald. September 23, 2021.

Editorial: Strain on the system

In recent weeks, there have been several articles talking about the harsh effects the pandemic has had on Vermonters, especially when it comes to shifting incomes, feeding families and challenges facing the supply chain for products.

Researchers at the University of Vermont have — again — used data to underscore the depth of the problem. In an article titled “Covid-19 Food Insecurity Remains High One Year into Pandemic.”

Last month, Rachel Leslie wrote that food insecurity reached record levels during the pandemic and remains above pre-pandemic levels one year later.

She wrote that nearly one in three Vermonters have been experiencing food insecurity at some point since March 2020. The new research by UVM shows 62% of those Vermonters were still food insecure one year into the pandemic.

The findings are the latest from a series of surveys conducted by Meredith Niles and colleagues in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences and Gund Institute for Environment at UVM to understand the pandemic’s impact on food security and food access. The study is one of the first to follow the same group (441 Vermonters) over a full year and builds on previous reports released by the research team at various intervals during the pandemic.

According to the article, more than half of survey respondents reported suffering a job disruption during the pandemic such as a job loss, reduction in work hours or income, or furlough. Of them, 18.2% were still experiencing a job disruption one year into the pandemic. However, only 1 in 5 of those with a job disruption received unemployment at some point during the first year of the pandemic.

Vermonters who remained food insecure in March 2021 were more likely to still be experiencing a job disruption and to have been food insecure before the pandemic started. In addition, those with greater odds of experiencing food insecurity include people without a college degree (4.1 times greater), women (2.4 times greater), households with children (2.4 times greater) and people under 55 (2 times greater).

“What we’re seeing is that the pandemic is likely to have a longer-term impact,” said Niles. “Many people faced long-term job disruptions and even though some may be back at work, it doesn’t mean they aren’t still facing financial hardships.”

Among the sample of Vermonters, participation in food assistance programs also increased during the pandemic compared to before the pandemic, except for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC. However, by March 2021 participation in all programs had declined compared to earlier in the pandemic: 18.2% decrease in SNAP/3SquaresVT; a 49.3% decrease in Pandemic-EBT; 8% decrease in WIC; a 19.1% decrease in school meal programs; 34.7% decrease in the use of food pantries.

According to the brief associated with the research, on average, respondents are less concerned about food becoming more expensive and not being able to afford food or access food assistance programs compared to in March and June 2020. Respondents who were still experiencing food insecurity in March 2021 were also less concerned about food becoming more expensive.

Based on 2020 data, respondents with food insecurity expressed greater worry about food access than survey respondents overall. And they were more likely to adopt coping strategies to address food access challenges, like buying foods that would last longer (77%), buying different and/or cheaper foods (66%) or eating less (66%).

Overall, UVM found that the coronavirus changed food habits and practices for respondents overall. Eighty-seven percent said they usually or always reduce the number of trips they made to the grocery store to avoid exposure to the virus, and 58% said they usually or always spent more time cooking.

While respondents experiencing food insecurity expressed greater concern and challenges accessing food, most of the respondents in the survey were unable to find all the food their households were accustomed to. “We are all feeling the impacts of the coronavirus on the food system,” Niles was quoted as saying at the time of the first look at food insecurity across Vermont.

The data provides a staggering presentation of just what the challenges are facing Vermonters right now. As the temperature drops, and the number of COVID cases continue to increase, the chances are good that the demand is — once again — going to strain the resources devoted to feeding hungry Vermonters.

Those challenges will be real, and must be met with solutions that make the difference toward better, more permanent solutions.

END

The Associated Press