Recent editorials of regional and national interest from New England’s newspapers:


Dead pool at Hartford Police Department was racist and unforgivable.

Hartford Courant

Dec. 11

Former Hartford Detective Jeffrey Placzek showed unforgivable callousness in proposing a bet on Hartford’s first murder of 2021. Top officials in Hartford must take steps to remove from the payroll someone who treats the city as a joke.

Now, 19 others in the Hartford Police Department, including the head of the Major Crimes Division, are under investigation for how they responded to — or failed to report — the message that Placzek sent to them suggesting a “Major Crimes dead pool.” He had wanted them to bet $20 on where the first homicide in the New Year would be.

Cruel. Disturbing. Racist. There aren’t enough words to describe a police officer wanting to wager on death and inviting colleagues along. His text scorned the city he’s been paid to serve. It mocked the civilians — mainly men and women of color — he’s been sworn to protect. It was unequivocally racist. It raises deeper suspicions about the culture at the Hartford Police Department.

The chief has recommended that Placzek be suspended without pay for 120 days. The chief has also demoted him from detective to an administrative post “until he decides whether to accept the punishment or challenge it under the union’s rules, which he is expected to do,” the Courant reported.

The chief is also recommending that Placzek pass a fitness-for-duty evaluation, among other measures. It’s worth questioning, however, whether these measure go far enough. Mr. Placzek does not belong in public safety in the city he has treated so disrespectfully.

If a member of the police force turns homicide into a game, can he do his job with professionalism? Can he feel empathy for a victim and her family? How can Hartford residents, including police who live in Hartford, work with him now?

The episode raises troubling questions about the culture at the Public Safety Complex. Placzek clearly felt comfortable in inviting so many colleagues to join him in his foul game — and supervisors did not act quickly enough once it surfaced. Police Chief Jason Thody said he first learned of the “dead pool” text two days after the detective sent it to his fellow officers’ personal cellphone numbers. The blue wall at the HPD was stronger than the commitment to treating people in Hartford with dignity and respect.

At a moment when the Hartford Police Department needs to show goodwill toward the city, one of their own has turned death into a game, and it’s not clear how hard, or even whether, other officers tried to set him straight. Placzek’s text underscores the deep distrust so many of the people who live in the city have for the police. It’s one of the reasons why so many took to the streets after the death of George Floyd this summer demanding structural change in our criminal justice system.

Placzek’s game weakens the trust the Hartford force has been trying to build with the city. It is up to those in charge to repair the damage.

There needs to be a moment of reckoning. The offensive text has revealed the disdain that some officers are suspected of holding for the people they serve. The chief and the mayor need to make sure those who would treat the men and women of Hartford so callously have no place on our streets.




Maine astronaut reaches beyond her childhood dreams

Portland Press Herald

Dec. 11

In her Caribou High School yearbook, Jessica Meir wrote that it was her dream “to go for a spacewalk.” Some 25 years later, she’s thinking even bigger.

Fresh off a 205-day mission on the International Space Station, the 43-year-old Meir has been chosen as one of 18 candidates – nine men and nine women – to take on the first human missions to orbit and land on the moon since Apollo 17, NASA announced Wednesday.

The mission is part of the Artemis program, named after Apollo’s twin sister. The Trump administration has directed that NASA return to the moon by 2024, and establish a sustainable human presence there by the end of the decade.

President-elect Joe Biden may have other ideas, and none of the astronauts on the list is guaranteed a spot on the mission. But if it goes forward, NASA will choose the team from that list of candidates, including at least one woman.

Meir is more than qualified. A biologist, she went to the International Space Station in September 2019 and returned in April, during which time she supported about 250 experiments, including research on creating bio-artificial organs and tissue in space. She travelled 86.9 million miles in space during her journey, completing 3,280 orbits of Earth while on the space station.

She also joined fellow astronaut Christina Koch for the first all-female spacewalk, fixing a battery charger while floating about 250 miles above Earth.

During the mission, she became the third Maine native to go to space, and the third to complete a spacewalk.

The number of people who have been to space is small. The number who have conducted a spacewalk is even smaller.

Now, Meir and the rest of the members of the Artemis team are in line to join an even more exclusive club. Just 12 astronauts – all men – have walked on the moon, none since the final Apollo mission in 1972.

Meir always makes it clear that her focus is on the mission and the experience of being in space. This week, she made a point to say that none of what she has accomplished would have been possible without the groundbreaking work of others, whether it be women of prior generations who pushed for opportunities, or all those scientists and engineers whose dedication and ingenuity have made space travel possible.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t be proud of everything this County girl has done.

And excited of what she may do in the future. The ultimate purpose of the mission to the moon is to establish a base for an eventual trip to Mars. Once the mission is ready to go, she will be too, Meir said this week.

The moon. Mars. What would that teenager in Caribou have to say about that?




Businesses need state aid now

The Newburyport Daily News

Dec. 11

“If we see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s just the light of an oncoming train.”

Robert Lowell was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and not a businessman, but the Boston Brahmin neatly summed up the state’s current economic climate in his poem “Since 1939.”

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts announced earlier this week that its business confidence index actually went up November, rising 3.1 points to 49.3. Yes, the confidence index is presented on a 100-point scale, so 49.3 is no one’s idea of a passing grade. But considering a 50 is considered a “neutral” outlook, it’s one step closer to a gentleman’s C.

Much of the newfound optimism is thanks to science, not sales.

“Massachusetts companies appear to believe that the new COVID-19 vaccines will ultimately stem the increase in new cases and restore stability to the economy,” Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisers, told State House News Service. “The fact that employers are significantly more confident about conditions six months from now than they are about current conditions is a strong indicator that they see better days ahead.”

Good news, to be sure. Left unanswered, however, is how many businesses will remain to take advantage of sunnier times and a steadier economy next spring.

Already, almost a quarter of restaurants in the state have closed for good since the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shutdown in March. That number is only expected to grow over the winter, when outdoor dining becomes an impossibility. Many restaurants plan to “hibernate” after the holidays, with no set reopening plans. The tens of thousands of other small businesses that power the state’s cities and towns aren’t in much better shape.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent rollback of reopening measures is aimed at cutting into the recent surge of coronavirus cases; many health experts are arguing he didn’t go far enough. But any shutdown that doesn’t come with an accompanying -- and significant -- aid package for small businesses is only delaying the inevitable. After an aggressive response earlier this year, both federal and state lawmakers have dragged their feet on addressing the deepening economic crisis on Main Street. Many of our local businesses can’t wait six months for help, no matter how optimistic some people may be.




A Classics Argument

The Caledonian Record

Dec. 8

Last week the University of Vermont announced plans to phase out 27 low-enrollment programs in an attempt to tame an $8.6 million deficit.

Under the plan, more than 30-degree programs, including a number of romance languages and classics, would be cut from the College of Arts and Sciences. They were chosen for low enrollment (fewer than 25 students) and fewer than five graduates a year.

“These difficult decisions were the result of careful thought and consultation over the last several years, and were informed by data and guided by a strategy to focus on the future success of the College of Arts and Sciences,” Provost and Senior Vice President Patricia Prelock said in a statement. “They also reflect UVM’s commitment to providing our students with an array of properly resourced programs that can maintain strong enrollments and foster the vitality necessary to achieve a high-quality academic experience.”

We believe her. But affected faculty, their union, and a number of students did not. They’re just getting warmed up for some good old-fashioned college protest. And knowing Vermont, and UVM, it will be quite a show.

That’s fine. We just hope they remember that, while they march, other colleges across the state either face closure or already closed.

One of those was our own NVU-Lyndon. And they quickly turned their existential threats into innovation fuel to power a transformation that better meets student and market needs.

Those sensibilities are missing from the conversation among critics of the UVM cuts. For better or worse, the modern workplace doesn’t need that many antiquities experts. If it did, then the programs wouldn’t be in any danger.

The almighty bottom line is that these programs cost more than they generate in revenue. Cuts involve people, and they’re never easy. But if UVM doesn’t adapt to changing market realities, then they’ll go into the same history books they’re proposing to close.