Recent editorials of regional and national interest from New England’s newspapers:
And we’re off! Don’t sit this one out.
American presidential elections go on too long. This one arguably began on July 28, 2017, just eight months after the election of President Donald Trump, when U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination. The early entry did not work well for Delaney and he became one the earliest to drop out, too, back in January.
But Labor Day is now behind is and, barring something unexpected (and if that were to happen, 2020 is the year it would), one of two people will fill the next presidential term, the incumbent Republican or Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
A strong argument can be made that how the major parties narrow down the choices and select a candidate need major reform. Trump obtained the nomination in large measure because his outrageousness dominated the 24-hour news cycle during the 2016 Republican primary. Fortunes turned in Biden’s favor with his strong primary win in South Carolina on Feb. 29, a state that is not representative of the Democratic Party nationally and will go to Trump on Nov. 3.
But as flawed as the process may be, these are the choices, and the results will be of great consequence.
A continued Trump presidency is sure to offer continued chaos and tweets, prioritize jobs and business over environmental protections and climate concerns, leave it largely to market forces to provide health care coverage for those who can afford it, and make control of the southern border a high priority. The president would continue to appoint conservative justices and pursue reversing the constitutional protections for legal abortions. A Trump “America First” administration would continue to prioritize unilateral foreign policy agreements rather than broad multinational alliances.
A Biden presidency will restore environmental regulations rolled back during the Trump term, use government incentives to encourage growth of renewable energy sources, build upon the Affordable Care Act to expand access to health care, and urge Congress to find a path to legal status for immigrants who came here illegally but have otherwise acted lawfully. Biden would make liberal judicial appointments to the courts and seek to shore up abortion rights. A Biden administration would return to the post World War II approach emphasizing alliances and cooperative initiatives with allies.
Neither has offered a solution or is likely to have one for the massive fiscal hole the nation confronts. The U.S. government will run its biggest budget shortfall ever this year, at $3.3 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That would be the fourth-largest deficit in proportion to the size of the economy after the war years of 1943 through 1945. The national debt is $26.7 trillion, or $81,000 per citizen.
There are other importance choices, of course. No U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs in Connecticut this year and Democrats are likely to continue their control of the state’s five House seats. While there is no race for governor, changes could be in store for the state legislature, determining whether Democrats expand their majorities or Republicans are able to erode them and gain added influence.
It’s important. Please vote, whatever your political persuasion. More people will be voting by absentee ballot due to the continued threat posed by the COVID-19 virus. But however you vote, vote - a lot of sacrifices were made to give you that right.
Some significant anniversaries remind us of that.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment, making it illegal to deny someone the right to vote based on their race. Tragically, lawmakers in the South still found ways to deny Blacks access to the ballot box. These included Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, literacy tests and the threat of violence.
But it is also the 55th anniversary of Voting Rights Act of 1965, which provided nationwide protections for voting. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, during which peaceful protestors were met with beatings, arrests, and vigilante murders, brought about this monumental change.
And 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote. That effort had begun decades earlier in 1848 when suffragists began the organized fight for women’s equality during the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y.
Don’t denigrate these sacrifices by sitting it out.
Let’s hope it won’t take another 9/11 to unite this nation
Sentinel & Enterprise
Today America marks the 19th anniversary of an event that along with Pearl Harbor will always be remembered as a day of infamy.
On Sept. 11, 2001 - on a warm and sunny late summer Tuesday morning - Islamic terrorists hijacked four airliners, two of which they crashed into New York’s iconic World Trade Center, leading to its destruction. Another airliner hit the Pentagon building in our nation’s capital, while the fourth plane, thanks to the heroic efforts of some passengers, never reached its intended target, slamming instead into a field near the small town of Shanksville, Pa.
While undoubtedly a national tragedy, these horrific acts of terrorism hit this state and region especially hard. The first two of those ill-fated airliners took off from Logan Airport. Of the 2,977 killed on that day, 206 had Massachusetts ties.
They included Dracut’s John Ogonowski, the gentleman farmer and pilot of American Airlines Flight 11, the plane that initiated the carnage by crashing into the World Trade Center’s north tower at about 8:45 a.m.
Acton’s Madeline Amy Sweeney, an American Airlines Flight 11 attendant, took it upon herself to relay the details of the airliner’s hijacking to a Boston supervisor moments before it met its demise.
Groton residents Peter Hanson, wife Sue Kim Hanson and toddler daughter Christine - the youngest 9/11 victim - were aboard United Flight 175 heading to Los Angeles to see Sue Kim’s family and visit Disneyland before hijackers flew the airliner into the World Trade Center’s south tower.
Many area communities bore the scars of a family member, relative, co-worker or friend felled by the events of this unimaginable day - David Kovalcin (Hudson, N.H.), Peter Gay and Peter Hashem (Tewksbury), David Bernard (Chelmsford), Brian Kinney (Lowell), James Hayden and Susan MacKay (Westford), Philip Rosenzweig (Acton) and Alexander Filipov (Concord).
Our country learned painful lessons from this catastrophe, some that should still resonate today.
For all of America’s armed might and projection of that military power around the world, it couldn’t prevent a threat of this horrendous scale from within its own borders.
It demonstrated what history has often taught: that powerful nations often dissolve from within, not from some perceived outside threat.
A national implosion of a different but equally momentous kind now keeps this country in an almost constant state of agitation. Visceral, partisan politics has seemingly spawned an even more militant form of socially acceptable behavior, the type that leads to unending violent protests and the destruction of property.
Nineteen years ago, President George W. Bush, less than eight months in office after winning a hotly contested, divisive election against Vice President Al Gore, stood in the midst of the World Trade Center’s still smoldering rubble and declared that “the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon.”
That moment galvanized a shaken nation behind its president, no longer a politician but the country’s leader in a time of crisis.
If he were alive today, we wonder if Abraham Lincoln would substitute this country’s crisis of ideology for slavery in his “House Divided” speech, given after the Illinois Republican Party nominated him as its U.S. Senate candidate in 1858.
In it, Lincoln declared “this government cannot endure permanently half slave half free.”
We submit that both of these propositions hold true.
Our wish on this solemn day of reflection?
That it won’t take another 9/11-like event for this country to be embraced - as Lincoln pronounced in his first Inaugural address - “by the better angels of our nature.”
Eviction ban helpful, but money still needed to pay the rent
Bangor Daily News
With one in five Americans facing eviction, keeping people in their homes is certainly a priority. So, a ban on evictions, announced by the Trump administration, is good news and appears well intentioned.
But, as with so much else, big questions surround the policy - including how it will be implemented and, more importantly, how it will be paid for.
The White House announced last week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would use its broad powers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to stop some evictions. The measure would forbid landlords from evicting tenants for failure to pay rent, if they meet criteria, including income limits and show they may become homeless if they are evicted.
The ban extends to Jan. 1.
Without federal funding to forgive rental and mortgage payments, both housing advocates and landlords fear that the move will simply push the problem down the road. There’s also some question whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have the authority to ban evictions.
Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, calls it “half a solution.” While it is a big relief that those unable to pay their rent won’t end up on the street, without financial help, rental payments will still be due when the ban ends on Jan. 1. That could leave families and individuals facing a huge bill in early 2021 under the CDC measure, Payne told the BDN.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills’ approach of offering up to $1,000 a month in rental relief to qualified tenants and putting that money into the hands of landlords makes more sense than the federal ban, Brit Vitalius, president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, told the BDN in an interview.
Both agree that the federal eviction ban is good news - if Congress allocates money to rental relief. A bill currently under consideration in the Senate doesn’t include such relief. A House bill, passed in May, includes $100 billion for rental help.
Without action from Congress, Maine’s efforts to minimize evictions while keeping renters in their homes and paying landlords, are vitally important.
At the end of July, as Maine courts were set to resume eviction proceedings and $600 in enhanced weekly unemployment benefits were ending, the governor announced an expansion of existing state efforts to stave off evictions and to provide rental relief. Rental assistance of $1,000 a month is available for three months to individuals that meet qualifications, including income limits and an inability to pay rent based on circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The $5 million in funding for this comes from money the state received earlier this year under the CARES Act.
“Many Maine people are still experiencing significant financial hardship as a result of COVID-19, and the last thing they need to worry about is losing their home,” Mills said in a July 20 statement.
In April, Gov. Janet Mills paused some evictions for residential and commercial tenants and created a rental relief program with MaineHousing. It offered a one-time payment of up to $500 in rental assistance for those who meet certain income thresholds. About 13,000 Mainers had accessed those funds by mid-July.
Roughly one in five American renters - between 19 million and 23 million people - are at risk of eviction by the end of September, according to an analysis by the Aspen Institute, Bloomberg reported.
Surveys of tenants done by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition find that while half of households had lower incomes due to job losses or reduced hours during the pandemic, 88 percent were still able to find a way to pay the rent.
That means taking money out of savings, not paying other bills, borrowing money, visiting food pantries and other measures that are not sustainable in the long term.
A federal eviction ban is helpful to prevent people from losing their housing and the state program ensures stable housing and payments to landlords for the next few months. A longer term solution is needed, however.
That’s why federal financial help, which remains absent from Congress, remains essential, for both renters and their landlords.
Right steps toward helping
The Rutland Herald
A segment on Vermont Public Radio this week has highlighted a problem that is a growing concern nationwide: Teen and youth anxiety and depression are getting worse since COVID lockdowns began in March.
According to the news report, at the end of June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed almost 10,000 Americans about their mental health. They found symptoms of anxiety and depression were up sharply across the board between March and June, compared with the same time the previous year. And young people seemed to be the hardest-hit of any group.
Almost 11% of all respondents to that survey said they had “seriously considered” suicide during the past 30 days. For those ages 18 to 24, the number was one in four - more than twice as high, the report stated.
Data collection for several studies on teen mental health during the pandemic is currently underway. And experts worry those studies will show a spike in suicide because young people are increasingly cut off from peers and caring adults, because their futures are uncertain and because they are spending more time at home, where they are most likely to have access to lethal weapons.
The stressors of COVID come as youth suicide was already at a record high before the pandemic, with increases every year since 2007. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 24, after accidents, as it has been for many years, according to the most recent data available from the CDC.
Not having guns in the home, or keeping them safely locked away, is another overlooked factor in suicide risk. A new analysis of the latest CDC data, just released by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, found that the rate of specifically firearm suicides increased 51% for 15- to 24-year-olds in the decade ending in 2018. Among 10- to 14-year-olds, who have a lower rate of suicide to begin with, suicide by gun increased a staggering 214% in that time frame.
Gov. Phil Scott on Thursday announced that Vermont has received $3.8 million in federal funding for suicide prevention. The five-year grant from the CDC will support the implementation and evaluation of the state’s comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention in Vermont. The announcement coincided with the observance of World Suicide Prevention Day.
“Deaths due to suicide are tragic and leave a lasting impact on families and loved ones,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “This grant will help ensure Vermonters who are struggling have access to the resources they need to help them through their challenges, and, hopefully prevent these unfortunate events.”
Clearly, the grant is timely.
According to the CDC, suicide is an increasing public health crisis that took more than 48,000 lives in the U.S. in 2018. As of Sept. 4, there have been 72 suicide deaths in Vermont this year. Over the last 10 years, the number of suicides in Vermont has risen, with a current rate 34% higher than that of the U.S. as a whole.
“Vermont is well poised to expand, strengthen and bring to scale our suicide prevention efforts,” said Department of Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrell in a prepared statement. “Suicide does not only impact those experiencing mental health challenges, and we owe it to each person to have in place the systems to meet them where they are - and in a way that is appropriate to their individual needs and circumstances.”
The Vermont Addressing Suicide Together project will use the federal grant to build on existing partnerships and programs to implement and evaluate a data-driven public health approach to suicide prevention in Vermont. The project will bolster collective efforts on the integration between health care and mental health, and work to ensure all Vermonters have access to the supports they need.
We welcome this news at a critical time, especially for young Vermonters. The risk is too great. And prevention is only accessible through education and resources.
Let this be a first step toward turning this trend around.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
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