Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

Doing Schoolwork in the Parking Lot Is Not a Solution

The New York Times

July 18

When Autumn Lee, a pre-med junior at the University of New Mexico, needs to download lectures or class assignments, she hops in her car and drives 45 minutes to the McDonald’s nearest to her town of Sanders, Ariz., to connect to reliable Wi-Fi from her car. After the university sent students home because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ms. Lee grew frustrated with what she said is expensive and data-restricted internet service in Sanders, an unincorporated village of fewer than 1,000 people in eastern Arizona. Relying on her smartphone data plan wasn’t much of an alternative. “It took one or two hours to watch a 20-minute lecture,” she said. “I just got so frustrated, I figured there had to be another way.” So she made the 40-mile trek several times each week — and she’ll likely have to keep doing it now that the school has canceled nearly all in-person classes for the fall.

Like Ms. Lee, many other Americans sheltering from Covid-19 are discovering the limitations of the country’s cobbled-together broadband service. Schooling, jobs, government services, medical care and child care that once were performed in person have been turned over to the web, exposing a deep rift between the broadband haves and have-nots.

Those rifts are poised to turn into chasms, as the global pandemic threatens another year of in-person schooling for American children. Large public-school districts like Los Angeles and Prince George’s County in Maryland, as well as a variety of colleges and universities, from Hampton to Harvard to Scripps, have canceled in-school instruction at the start of the coming year. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced rules that would require the vast majority of schools in California to begin the year remotely, meaning millions of pupils will need a reliable internet connection throughout the day for instruction. Additional districts that are going online only at the start of the year include Nashville, Houston and Atlanta.

Other districts will surely follow, as the raging contagion in their communities gives them little alternative. An adequate connection is no longer a matter of convenience; it is a necessity for anyone wishing to participate in civil society.

Service is often unavailable or too expensive in rural communities and low-income neighborhoods. This has forced people into parking lots outside libraries, schools and coffee shops to find a reliable signal — while others are simply staying logged off. At the same time, there is pressure on small businesses that are still using pen and paper to modernize or face extinction.

Yet, federal and local initiatives have failed to bring swift internet service to tens of millions of Americans. Like electricity, internet service has become a necessity for modern life.

“What Covid-19 has done is accelerate the pace of technological change,” said Kathryn de Wit, manager of the Pew Charitable Trust’s broadband research initiative. “Getting online isn’t an option anymore, and if you don’t have that connection, you’re pretty much cut off.”

Efforts to fix this inequity extend back at least as far as 2009, when Congress directed the Federal Communications Commission to develop a plan to get broadband service to nearly every American.

Some 21 million still lack it, according to commissioners’ estimates. Yet that might be an underestimate: One study puts it far higher, at around 42 million. The Pew Research Center said as many as one in four rural Americans lack high-speed internet service, because of either the cost or a lack of availability. Microsoft and others have disputed the F.C.C.’s data, which relies on self-reporting from internet service providers — reporting that can indicate an entire census block has service even if service is provided to just one household within the area.

Getting an accurate count of where broadband is needed is critical, because it helps federal programs like the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund determine where to spend to expand broadband’s reach, meaning the Opportunity Fund’s $20.4 billion in planned outlays over the next 10 years could still leave many Americans behind. Two of the F.C.C.’s five commissioners dissented over parts of the funding, citing the faulty accounting.

Two bills passed by the House last year would help improve how broadband’s reach is counted. These bills are encouraging bipartisan steps toward addressing the problem.

Also worthy of strong consideration is a bill introduced last month by Representative James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina. It was followed by a Senate version this month, that would devote $100 billion toward making broadband accessible in underserved areas. But Republicans have indicated that they are not likely to support it.

In urban areas, the struggle to get reliable or affordable internet service disproportionately affects minorities.

The cost of broadband makes it three times more likely that households without internet service can be found in urban, rather than rural, environments, according to John B. Horrigan of the Technology Policy Institute. Distance learning over Zoom may be a poor substitute for the real thing, but with school closings amid the coronavirus extending into the fall, students without home internet connections could slip further behind.

To help bridge the gap, some school districts distributed Wi-Fi hot spots and laptops to needy students. Francine Hernandez drove to a Tucson, Ariz. parking lot with her 14-year-old daughter every day for nearly a month to access Wi-Fi beamed from yellow district school buses. She said the family had lost service after her husband lost his job, making this the best alternative.

“It was the only way she could finish her homework,” said Ms. Hernandez. She said she sat in the car with her daughter for three hours at a stretch until the buses left before lunch.

Today, broadband is a patchwork of infrastructure and services offered primarily by major corporations like Verizon and AT&T. But swaths of the country have been left with no service, either because of a lack of perceived profits or a lack of the political will to extend fiber to harder-to-reach communities.

Electrifying the entire country a century ago was made possible by a coordinated federal plan from the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt The Rural Electrification Administration brought electricity to areas outside city centers through federal loans to small cooperatives formed to bring power lines and generators to their communities.

While such a centralized effort may be unlikely today without the urgency of the New Deal, the coronavirus has demonstrated that it is time for the federal government to think more creatively and to act more swiftly to deploy broadband service.

As service areas exist today, Geoff Wiggins cannot get broadband internet service extended to his house in Liberty Township, Ohio, near Columbus, even though he lives just a few houses in either direction from available service. He said a local provider told him he’d have to pay more than $30,000 to get internet cable extended just to his driveway. So he has relied on wireless service from phone providers and weekend excursions to the parking lots of nearby businesses.

Universal broadband will be costly, but shelter-in-place orders have demonstrated that it is even more costly to leave so many Americans behind. A House bill to accelerate deployment of the $20.4 billion overseen by the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is a start, but the F.C.C. has estimated it could take $80 billion to reach nearly every American without broadband. House Democrats proposed in April that more than $80 billion be authorized over five years for broadband expansion.

“People are afraid of the price tag,” said Mr. Clyburn, a co-sponsor of the bill along with Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan. “We can’t afford not to do it.”

Perhaps more daunting is the challenge of providing service that is speedy and at a price that even lower-income Americans can afford. One study found that poorer Americans can afford only $10 a month for internet service. But such service is typically at far slower speeds than what is available in more affluent neighborhoods, or for free at Starbucks.

Private industry may have little desire to provide lower-tier broadband service when it can profit far more from higher-end services. The expansion of federal programs, like E-Rate, to allow schools to distribute broadband service directly to students could also help lower costs.

But those solutions are not a fix to the broader problem. Drawing Wi-Fi from school buses and fast-food restaurants isn’t a long-term solution.



Trump’s latest census gambit


July 21

It should come as no surprise that President Donald Trump is making another run at politicizing the U.S. Census. He has repeatedly and wrongly tried to limit who is included in the decennial head count. Having been stymied by the federal courts, he now is attempting to effectively remove them from the mandate for an “actual Enumeration” of all people in the country — after the count is completed.

It wasn’t right then, and it isn’t right now. With November’s election looming, Trump is flagging in the polls against former Vice President Joe Biden and has been looking for fuel to feed his anti-immigrant base. That just makes his latest action all the more cynical.

The Constitution’s mandate to count all people every 10 years is primarily to determine how many members of the House of Representatives each state will have. The census count also determines how many federal dollars flow to each state and it also provides essential data for many other programs. The president signed a memorandum Tuesday that would exclude immigrants in the country illegally from that calculation.

Trump’s memorandum is so patently wrong, it’s unlikely to survive a court challenge. But as with other red-meat challenges, it’s not whether the rule is ever put in place in the long run, it’s how it plays politically in the short term.

Trump’s latest constitutional assault comes a year after the Supreme Court blocked his attempt to add a citizenship question to the census, a move that was exposed as an effort to stop immigrants here illegally from filling out the census for fear that revealing their status would lead to deportation.

Depressing those numbers would hurt states and regions with large numbers of such immigrants, such as New York City and Long Island, since the census also is used in population-dependent formulas for funding for health care, housing and education. Since states are obligated by law to provide many services for all residents, regardless of citizenship status, an accurate count of all residents is essential. Academic researchers and former and current census officials said a citizenship question might have produced an undercount of as many as 6.5 million people; Trump’s new attempt to exclude them after the count could achieve a similar undercount.

Besides being unconstitutional, the president’s gambit also is unworkable. How is the administration going to determine accurately who in the census is in the country illegally? And it might not have the effect he intends; it also would hurt red states with sizable immigrant populations working, for example, in meatpacking plants or on industrial farms or living along the Southern border.

After signing the memorandum, Trump issued a statement that said there “used to be a time when you could proudly declare, ‘I am a citizen of the United States.’” You still can. But part of that proud declaration is that you also are proud to abide by the Constitution. That’s true for everyone, the president included.



Good riddance to Washington team’s racist nickname. Now, ditch the rest

Syracuse Post-Standard

July 19

The NFL Washington Redskins’ offensive nickname lasted 87 years, through a move from Boston to Washington, three owners, multiple lawsuits, trademark fights, federal legislation, presidential pressure, Super Bowl protests and a persistent campaign by Indigenous Americans.

It could not withstand the racial reckoning that has occurred over the last six weeks since George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Protests over Floyd’s death are telling a different story about our history, causing Americans to reappraise our heroes, monuments and symbols. After decades of fighting it, seemingly overnight, the Washington football team announced it would immediately drop its offensive name and begin the search for a new one.

Good riddance to a slur leveled against Native Americans, a cartoonish representation of Indigenous culture, a sanitized history of colonization and oppression.

Better late than never, but it should not have taken this long. Stanford University changed its team names from the Indians to the Cardinal in 1972. Syracuse University dropped its Saltine Warrior mascot in 1978 after negotiations between the fraternity that sponsored it and Native students and leaders of the Onondaga Nation. Most high schools in New York got rid of their Native mascots in the 2000s.

The few that remain should change them now.

This includes the Oriskany Redskins. We urge school leaders to drop the nickname. As Superintendent Timothy Gaffney wrote in an email to the school community, schools have a role in shaping the “values and mindsets” of students, and should be committed to pursuing “racial understanding, justice and equity in our schools and nation.” Those are good reasons to replace the school’s mascot. The district can find another way to honor the Oneida Indians who fought alongside American Revolutionary forces during the Battle of Oriskany in 1777.

As it happens, the present-day Oneida Indian Nation was prominent in the public campaign against the NFL team’s name, while other Native activists applied pressure and moral suasion in different ways.

Alas, morality was not a factor in Washington principal owner Dan Snyder’s decision to drop the name. In 2013, Snyder declared, “We will never change the name. NEVER — you can use all caps.”

Snyder’s enlightenment came only after three major corporate sponsors — FedEx, Nike and Pepsi — were pressured by their investors to follow through on the values of diversity and inclusion the companies professed to hold.

FedEx threatened to strip its name from the team’s home stadium in Landover, Maryland — a move that would cost Snyder $45 million. Nike stopped selling team apparel on its website. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., officials made it clear to Snyder that unless the team name was changed, they would block construction of a new stadium inside the District. The financial pressure forced Snyder’s hand.

The NFL, in its typically meek fashion, took no position on changing the Washington team’s name until after the deed was done. The league had a golden opportunity to use its tremendous cultural and financial influence to make its sport more welcoming and inclusive — the way the NBA and NASCAR did in controversies over Black Lives Matter and the Confederate battle flag. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell whiffed.

Sports fans can argue until the cows come home about what Native American imagery means in the context of their favorite teams. They can use words like tradition, heritage and fighting spirit. They can interpret headdresses, tomahawk chops, drumbeats and war paint as somehow honoring Native culture. They are wrong.

Such displays reduce Indigenous peoples to caricatures. They denigrate and dehumanize Native Americans, and cheapen their foundational contributions to our country and our world. Respect for our fellow humans should be reason enough to put an end to racist mascots and imagery.



Want to return to normal? Wear a mask

Adirondack Daily Enterprise

July 18

It is good news that schools in the North Country should be able to open in September with at least some form of in-person learning.

Now, the hard work begins.

School districts have until July 31 to submit reopening plans to the state Education Department. There is much yet to be determined that interests many parents: how much of the school’s plan revolves in learning time outside of the classroom, how schools plan to get children to and from school, how school districts plan to disinfect schools on a regular basis and how districts that don’t have electronic devices for all students can make sure children have access to them by the time school begins.

The COVID-19 infection rate must be below 5% based on a 14-day average. If the infection rate is above 9% on a seven-day average after Aug. 1, schools will close. The final formula decision will be made the week of Aug. 1 to 7.

Many children need to be in school both to learn and for emotional growth. The status of many families’ jobs relies on school being in session, too. For all those carping about mask wearing and freedom should remember that too big an increase in COVID-19 infections, regardless of hospitalization rates, means the upcoming school year could be pulled away in the drop of a hat.

Not everyone loves Gov. Andrew Cuomo nor his policies. That’s fair. He is far from perfect. The sound of the man’s voice, to many in our area, sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. He made a major mistake early in the pandemic crisis by sending COVID-19 patients to recover in nursing homes, where many vulnerable residents died. To many, Cuomo’s new requirement that bars must serve food or else shut down is nonsense.

But it’s also fair to say that Cuomo’s the governor, and right now, he makes the rules. No amount of complaining is going to change that fact.

More importantly, we are faced with a virus that has killed roughly 600,000 people worldwide, including more than 32,000 right here in New York. This isn’t about politics; it’s a matter of life or death.

If we want life to return to normal, including some semblance of a normal school year, it is incumbent on us to make sure the COVID-19 infection rate remains low. Wear a mask when you can’t social distance.

The governor, like him or not, is trying hard to get people to do the right things — the things that will get us better again most quickly. If you don’t want to do it for him, fine — wear a mask for yourself and your family and friends. But just do it.

Like the Great Depression and the world wars, the coronavirus is a crisis we all face. We all have to do our part to slow its spread; otherwise we let thousands more die.



Legislators Should Consider Drastically Reimagining How Local Share Dollars Are Used

The Post-Journal

July 22

County Legislator Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan, is on the right track when it comes to the county’s 2021 public safety budget.

When the County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee met last week, Niebel suggested some major restructuring to the county Probation Department and the Sheriff’s Department’s Snowmobile Division. Both suggestions brought concerns from Legislator Bob Bankoski, D-Dunkirk, regarding union contracts and, in regard to the snowmobile division, safety for snowmobile riders. Bankoski’s concerns are valid and need to be hashed out, but Niebel’s logic is sound during a time when massive county budget shortfalls are projected for next year.

“It is important because we are expecting a pretty good shortfall in revenue for our local share, so I think some of those things need to become a reality,” said legislator Dan Pavlock, R-Sinclairville.

Give Niebel and Pavlock credit for their willingness to take a sledgehammer to the budget rather than a pencil eraser. The 2021 budget is not one for wish lists and pie-in-the-sky budget requests. It needs to be barebones. Existing programs need to be justified and, if not mandated, face serious discussion about cutbacks.

The way things have always been done won’t cut it with this budget. Legislators should follow the lead of Pavlock and Niebel and consider a drastic reimagining of how local share dollars are used.