Recent editorials of regional and national interest from New England’s newspapers:
Bipartisan interest in helping restaurants welcomed, but federal help needed
There is bipartisan interest in helping Connecticut’s restaurants and bars survive and get to the other side of the pandemic. It is only right. And it makes sense economically.
These businesses had to sacrifice to discourage the spread of the coronavirus. Bars have remained closed throughout. Restaurants were shut down for a time, opened to outside dining during the warmer months and, since then, have tried to survive on reduced inside dining and takeout orders.
We have questioned whether Gov. Ned Lamont should have closed eateries again when virus infections, hospitalizations and COVID-19 deaths began to surge. But it may not matter a heck of a lot, because patrons are choosing to stay away out of concern for viral spread.
These establishments are a big part of our local economies and if they cannot recover it will make the economic recovery overall that much more difficult. They are also part of the fabric that makes a community.
More than 600 have closed since the pandemic hit.
On Wednesday, incoming House Republican minority leader Rep. Vincent Candelora said House Republicans will propose: setting aside $50 million in relief grants to cover monetary losses; suspending liquor permitting and food licensing fees for effected establishments; delaying property tax payments by 90 days; and working with banks to provide low-interest loans.
Meanwhile, the Lamont administration is developing a $25 million small business relief program using prior federal coronavirus relief funds. Most restaurants would qualify.
“Our governor and legislature need to begin managing the economic side of the crisis,” Candelora said.
“I think we’re all on the same page, to tell you the truth,” said Lamont at his daily news briefing when asked about the Republican idea.
While it won’t make or break most bars and restaurants, waiving fees would help when every bit of help is needed. More questionable is the short delay in property tax bills. A lot is not going to change in 90 days. And banks would need some backing from the state if they are to provide emergency loans to keep such establishments solvent. That risk, to the state, would have to be carefully evaluated.
Most fundamentally, the money being talked about is not nearly enough. Connecticut and other states need more federal help. Unless a substantial relief bill passes in Washington, the best of bipartisan intentions here in Connecticut will simply not measure up to scope of the challenge.
Billionaires could easily share their pandemic dividends with struggling Americans
Bangor Daily News
The Christmas season is often one characterized by charity. Even Scrooges and Grinches can be convinced to give a little and to help the less fortunate.
We understand that real life is no Christmas carol, but at a time when millions of Americans are facing hunger, unemployment and the potential loss of their homes, we can’t help but wonder why America’s most fortunate aren’t doing more to help.
Consider this analysis from Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies: The 651 billionaires in America have seen their collective wealth increase by more than $1 trillion since the pandemic began in mid-March. This assessment was made in early December, so their gains have likely grown since then.
To put that into a little perspective. The financial gains of these 651 people exceed the total pricetag of the latest stimulus plan being considered by Congress. That package is worth a little more than $900 billion.
The two groups calculated that if America’s billionaires gave their recent wealth gains to the American people, they could give each person about $3,000. Again, that’s more than Congress is currently contemplating sending to qualified Americans in the form of relief checks.
The billionaires’ combined wealth gains in the last nine months are double the two-year estimated budget gap of all state and local governments, which is forecast to be at least $500 billion, the groups note. The relief bill that is expected to soon emerge for congressional votes does not include relief for state, local and tribal governments.
Private philanthropy should not be expected to replace government aid programs. But imagine if these wealthy men and women chose to invest their recent windfall in their fellow Americans. In short, it would do a lot of good.
We realize that many wealthy individuals and families give lots of money to charitable causes. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, has issued nearly $55 billion in grants to support education, health care and equality around the world. Jeff Bezos recently pledged $10 billion to address climate change.
But, right now, here in America, millions of people are struggling as coronavirus cases rise and small businesses struggle to stay open. Investing directly in these people now would pay big dividends and it would markedly improve their lives.
Mackenzie Scott, the richest woman in American, recently announced that she was giving $4.2 billion to 384 nonprofit organizations around the country. The donations include $10 million to Coastal Enterprises Inc. and undisclosed amounts to Good Shepherd Food Bank and Goodwill of Northern New England.
CEI will use some of the money immediately to help “ensure that families and communities recover and thrive” after the pandemic, the organization said in a message on Facebook. Good Shepherd plans to use Scott’s donation to accelerate and amplify its work to end hunger in Maine, its President Kristen Miale said.
When she divorced Amazon founder Jeff Bezos last year, Scott received Amazon shares that are now worth $62 billion. To give you an idea about just how well the megarich are doing right now, those shares were valued at $37 billion just last year.
“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling. Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty,” Scott wrote in a blog post this week. “Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”
Scott has signed the Giving Pledge, a commitment by some of the world’s richest people to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. Bezos has not signed on. Pledge or no pledge, the wealthy should not be waiting to give in this moment of great need.
Some direct relief has already come from political campaigns, which often amass huge sums of money and are allowed to put it toward charitable giving. Former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon announced in early December that her campaign is donating a total of $350,000 to two charities that provide hunger and heating assistance in Maine. That is great news, but with a reported $14 million left over from her unsuccessful campaign, it would seem that Gideon could do even more for Mainers in need. Everyone with the available resources should be considering how they can do more for others right now.
Ongoing grassroots efforts, including many in Maine, are noble and making a valuable difference in peoples’ lives. But, the impact could be so much greater if America’s billionaires followed Scott’s lead with cash now.
Let public health expertise guide school reopenings
As evidence mounts that schools can reopen without worsening the coronavirus pandemic - and that keeping them shut has stunted the educations of millions of children - Boston Public Schools superintendent Brenda Cassellius is working to restore more in-person education across the city. For her efforts, she’s received furious pushback from the teachers union. But as long as schools are taking adequate safety precautions - as determined by public health officials - she should continue steadily reopening the school system.
There’s no longer much doubt that remote instruction, delivered over computer screens, is inferior to in-person learning. The setbacks for younger pupils, students of color, and low-income children have been especially acute. On Sunday afternoon, a group of more than 80 parents, advocates, and teachers rallied in Nubian Square in Roxbury to demand more in-person learning for high-needs students. Similar protests have sprung up around the state. Prolonged school closures risk deepening racial inequalities and could do lasting damage to the public school system; enrollment is already plummeting in Massachusetts and nationally.
At the same time, schools have not proved to be major sources of coronavirus transmission. Many charter and parochial schools in Massachusetts have been open for in-person instruction without major incident.
Yet after Cassellius announced plans to open another 28 Boston schools - on top of the four already open - the Boston Teachers Union passed a vote of no-confidence in her. Cassellius raised the union’s ire by relying on school safety measures approved by the Boston Public Health Commission - which included new handwashing and sanitizing stations, rules limiting the number of people in a classroom, medical grade PPE for staff, and increased access to testing, among others - rather than signing an agreement that would have applied the same set of safety provisions in place at the first four schools to the 28 additional school buildings.
Unions have to stand up for their members, but not everything belongs on the bargaining table. Whether individual school buildings - or restaurants, or hotels, or offices, or anything else - are safe enough to open during the pandemic is ultimately a public health question. “We don’t let restaurants decide when they want to open or not,” said Marty Martinez, the city’s health and human services chief. (Nor, for that matter, is the public health commission consulted on how to teach reading.) It’s especially strange to insist that standards ought to look exactly the same in every school, when the district’s buildings differ so greatly in age and physical configuration.
After the union’s vote, Walsh hurried to Cassellius’s defense. “Brenda has done nothing in the district to earn a no-confidence vote,” he said in an interview with the Globe editorial board. On the city’s reopening, Walsh says he listens to BPHC guidance. “This isn’t us waking up one day saying, ‘Oh, we should open these schools today.’ ”
In an interview, BTU president Jessica Tang emphasized that the union has been pushing the district to come up with a reopening plan for months, and criticized Cassellius for rebuffing her repeated calls to meet and collaborate consistently on ideas and solutions for reopening throughout the pandemic.
The clash in Boston comes against the backdrop of a statewide efforts by teachers unions to slow or stop school reopenings - or, in the case of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, conditioning support for reopening on unrelated demands such as abolishing the MCAS exam. Cassellius is the sixth superintendent to receive a no-confidence vote from a local teachers union in the past few months following disagreements over reopening plans, according to Thomas Scott, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
“How unfortunate that in these profoundly challenging circumstances … these union leaders resort to the same old intimidation tactics simply because they did not get their way,” said Scott and Glenn Koocher, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, in a joint statement supporting their members, “who continue to face resistance and insulting rhetoric from union leaders who would rather criticize than compromise.”
It’s one thing for unions to worry about the safety of their members in a pandemic. But the local no-confidence votes make clear that these fights are about power and politics as much as ventilation systems and COVID-19 testing. Massachusetts municipalities need to make reopening decisions based on the science around COVID-19 - and the science around how lost learning time harms kids.
Bill of Rights Day
The Caledonian Record
Today is the 229th anniversary of ratification by the United States of the Bill of the Rights.
It’s appropriate to reflect on the bedrock role of the Constitution and Bill of Rights play in our country’s continued strength and existence.
The Constitution and its amendments underlie all of our shared civil liberties and social freedoms. They are timeless and perpetually relevant. They reflect the foresight of our country’s framers who created a document that guides and shapes our lives in every recess of our collective social, political, cultural, and economic experience.
It’s easy to be down on America at times, but the vast civil liberties imbued us through the Bill of Rights, are unknown to the majority of the world’s citizens. The list of have-nots is disproportionately longer than those blessed few of us living in relative peace and (asterisk)mostly(asterisk) safe from governmental abuse and excess.
The tougher things seem, the more clear it is we have the Bill of Rights to thank for our nation of laws. It provides us unyielding, clear guidance through complicated contemporary debates – protests, voting rights, immigration, religious freedom, the role of the judiciary, states’ rights, gun control, flag burning, health care reform, etc.
It also gives our citizenry the ability to discuss these controversial topics, without fear of sanctioned reprisal. This freedom forms the core of our underlying unity as we are drawn together by the sentiment – “I may detest your message but I will defend to the death your right to speak it.”
The First Amendment is clear. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Nowhere in the amendment are there qualifications to gain liberties such as race, gender, size of bank account, political persuasion, marital status. The First Amendment is a big tent, and if you call this country home, you are in it.
The First Amendment is also the most critically important toward guaranteeing a free and open society. Countless historical examples exist to substantiate the certainty – an informed and active citizenry is unparalleled as a protection against government abuse, excess, and tyranny.
It’s the reason that dictatorial regimes depend on centrally controlled propaganda. Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Communist China are among more notorious historical examples. But pay attention to current events and there are plenty of modern-day dictators whose firm grasp on power depends on their strict control of information.
In those countries (places like Yemen, Syria, North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Belarus, China) people are arrested, tortured, and even killed for expression. Independent journalists simply don’t exist, so state-directed propaganda is the only source of “news.” At all times citizens in these places are told how and what to think.
Americans are envied by the oppressed, worldwide, but too often take their precious liberties for granted.
According to the latest First Amendment Center Poll, when asked to name the five First Amendment Freedoms, 64-percent of Americans could name freedom of speech, 29-percent could name freedom of religion, 22-percent knew the freedom of the press, 12-percent could name right to assemble, and four-percent could name the right to petition. The right to bear arms – a Second Amendment guarantee – was cited as a First Amendment liberty by 16-percent of respondents.
Meanwhile, 29-percent of Americans cannot name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment and a jarring 29-percent of respondents said the First Amendment went too far. That’s likely why our outgoing President felt so empowered to attack the media as “Enemies of the People,” a term coined to deadly effect by Stalin.
Knowledge of the other 25 Amendments declines predictably.
The Constitution and Bill of Rights were largely an experiment by like-minded individuals united to abrogate authoritarianism and aspiring toward self-government. We think far too many Americans are inexcusably ignorant of the history, relevance, and reach intrinsic in these extraordinary documents. Much of the world’s peace and prosperity is built on the system of laws for which the Constitution and Bill of Rights provide the foundation.
By its simplicity and anticipant wisdom, however, the Constitution has thus far proven impregnable to assault, ignorance, and apathy. As citizens who enjoy the protections borne from and guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, we owe it to ourselves and to the subjugated majority of people throughout history, to reflect on these extraordinary freedoms we enjoy.
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