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


Vaccination pins should be badges of honor

The Connecticut Post

Dec. 30

Imagine opening a time capsule in 100 years that contains artifacts from this year of COVID.

What would it contain? Certainly masks of both the creative and pedestrian kind. We would have contributed one or two of those old-fashioned newspapers blaring the march of doomsday. Some wise guy would have tossed in toilet paper. Directions for using Zoom, a Netflix schedule, virtual class schedules, takeout menus, a “closed” placard. Expressions of life as well as documents of death.

But in that time capsule must also be pins worn by recipients of the vaccine.

The pins, and stickers being offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“I got my COVID-19 vaccine!”), reflexively summon thoughts of Election Day “I voted” counterparts. Unfortunately, we know all too well that the people who show up at polling places tend to represent a fraction of eligible participants.

In New Haven, the city is distributing pins co-branded by AT&T to the first 5,000 residents to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

There’s something fitting about the telecommunications giant getting this message out via a tiny piece of metal with a pin on the back. In this chaotic year, so much has reverted to primitive methods.

Concerns are already rising, though, that such pins and stickers risk becoming modern Scarlet Letters, inviting blowback from the anti-vaxxers crowd.

“People might be afraid to wear the pin because of any criticism they might get from individuals who are anti-vaccine,” Quinnipiac University law professor John Thomas opined.

Connecticut kicked off immunizations Dec. 14 with health care workers. Next in line are nursing home residents and staff, essential workers, the elderly and residents with health conditions. The healthiest adults and children are at the end of the line, unlikely to receive the vaccine until about mid-2021.

The labels symbolically divide people in different camps, those who have gotten the doses, those who desire “the cure,” and those who oppose them.

The opposition, estimated at 20 percent of Americans in a recent USA Today poll, also includes people fearful of personal information finding its way to databases.

In Connecticut, the vaccine will be administered, and the name of the recipient will be added to a database, along with the identity of the manufacturer. Cynics need to remember it is vital to maintain records to ensure the second dosage is properly administered, and to monitor side effects that might occur. They might also note that records regarding measles and chicken pox have been common for generations.

And yes, it’s important to be able to keep a lookout for hot spots of resistance. Those striving to avoid COVID deserve to know which communities have low turnout for the vaccine.

Wearing badges of support for the vaccine should be recognized as a medal of honor, a COVID version of the Purple Heart. They should be at the very top of the time capsule, a symbol of what brought this war to an end.




2020 was a year of inequality

Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel/

Dec. 31

The standard that optometrists use to define good eyesight is 20/20 vision, and that may be the best lens through which we should view the year that has just passed.

On top of everything else, 2020 was the year when a lot of things came into clear focus. Income inequality had been climbing steadily for decades, but the coronavirus pandemic and the recession it caused showed how it is truly a matter of life and death.

2020 will go down in history as the year of a global pandemic, which will have killed more than 350,000 Americans by 12:01 Friday morning.

It’s also the year in which an estimated 15 million Americans, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native and white, took to the streets in cities and towns to protest racial injustice and white supremacy.

And it will be remembered for an election that produced a divided government for a divided nation.

We should also remember 2020 as a year when what had been fuzzy concepts for many of us came into sharp focus. Witnessing homeless encampments and long lines at food pantries while the stock market surged, this was a year in which inequality could not be denied.

The pandemic affected the lives of virtually everyone in some way, but it did not affect us all in the same way. About a third of the labor force was able to take their work home, getting through the year without exposing themselves to coronavirus or missing a paycheck.

But millions of others, who did not have jobs that could be done remotely, were either out of work or forced to put themselves at risk to make a living. These frontline employees were some of the lowest-paid service workers even before the pandemic struck, and their lives took on more than their fair share of disruption.

The inequality could be seen in more than just paychecks. Spikes in hunger and poverty rates are directly connected to the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on low-wage workers. These jobs were disproportionately held by non-white women, which is why some observers are calling the resulting economic upheaval a “she-cession.” Coronavirus infections and deaths were disproportionately felt by communities of color. It’s true even in Maine, where Black people make up 1.7 percent of the population but represent nearly 7 percent of COVID cases.

We can’t address the problems that we can’t see. Racial and economic inequality were not invented in 2020, but the events of the pandemic have brought them into undeniable focus. It’s not just a question of the unemployment rate. Our systems for providing access to health care, education, nutrition and housing are grossly unfair, and were before the pandemic made its mark.

Something else that came into focus this year is the extent to which we depend on each other. A disease that was most dangerous for the old and frail had the ability to pull down our entire economy. A simple precaution, like the use of face coverings, can head off a catastrophe if enough people are willing to take part.

The year 2020 is behind us. It’s up to us to bring our 2020 vision into 2021.




Pass the economic development bill

Boston Globe

Dec. 30

Seemingly eons ago — but actually just this summer — both houses of the Massachusetts Legislature passed economic development bills designed to steer state workforce investments, reform restrictive housing rules, and protect local businesses from the sudden havoc created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Then the two bills went to a House-Senate conference committee charged with hashing out differences between the proposals, where they’ve languished ever since.

The need, though, is as great as ever — both for the targeted short-term coronavirus measures envisioned in the legislation, and the bigger policy shifts that the state needed long before the outbreak. In the waning days of the legislative session, lawmakers need to get the economic development bill to Governor Charlie’s Baker desk.

Thousands of Massachusetts residents continue to file for unemployment, landlords are evicting more tenants than they have in months, restaurants are closing. The $600 checks to individual taxpayers and more loans and grants to employers on their way from the federal government, while certainly better than nothing, may provide some relief but won’t revive the economy on their own.

Both House and Senate bills contain provisions tailored for the coronavirus emergency. For instance, the House version puts a cap on fees that delivery services can charge to restaurants; it would expire when the crisis passes. The proposed legislation also loosens liquor regulations for restaurants, makes loan money available for businesses affected by the virus, creates a grant program for museums and other cultural institutions to create remote programs, and sets up a recovery commission.

Both chambers also included a version of Governor Charlie Baker’s housing choice legislation, which would ease the construction of new housing. That was a major pre-coronavirus priority, but the outbreak has only put the consequences of the state’s housing shortage in sharper focus. The way the virus ripped through overcrowded apartment buildings in places like Chelsea was a tragic reminder that the state’s long-term inability to build enough housing means demand is being met in unsafe and, ultimately, unjust ways. The housing language in the Senate’s version is stronger, but both would be a serious step forward.

The coronavirus has also changed the equation around another seemingly unrelated item tucked into the House’s version of the bill — the legalization of sports betting. If the state allowed sports betting and taxed it, it’s estimated that would raise tens of millions of dollars annually — which wouldn’t hurt at a time when state revenues have been taking a beating and services are on the chopping block. The Senate bill is silent on sports betting. If it’s a sticking point, it shouldn’t hold up progress on other fronts.

As usual, bills are piling up at the end of the legislative session, raising worries that even some widely supported legislation will be left by the wayside. The added distraction of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s retirement hasn’t helped. This year in particular, though, failing to pass the economic development package would be inexcusable. The Legislature gave itself plenty of extra time to work through the differences between House and Senate bills — and the need for an economic shot in the arm has rarely been so clear.




Anti-Social Media

The Caledonian Record

Dec. 28

The Valley News is covering an ongoing saga in Thetford in which a town employee stands accused of shockingly poor judgment on social media.

Nathan Maxwell was placed on paid leave early in December after reportedly threatening a TikTok user who wears a bindi. “I don’t know, but thanks for the target on the forehead,” @nathanielmaxwell0 allegedly wrote. “That makes things easier.”

A June post from the same account featured a video of Maxwell purportedly equating his refusal to wear a mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus for “the same reason I drink alcohol, chew tobacco, (expletive) women without a rubber, don’t wear a seatbelt when I drive; because I just don’t give a (expletive).”

Maxwell is the full-time director of both the town recreation department and public works. In those capacities, he earns $67,860 a year to oversee youth sports and department budgets.

When the news of his posts first broke, he published a denial on the town Facebook page.

“I want to apologies (sic) for anyone that has come across a social media posting. I would like to be clear that I would never, and did never make this type of statement. I’m not sure how this was created but, simply is not true. I value many walks of lives (sic) and have great compassion for all. Sincerely, Nathan.”

The “I must have been hacked” post has since been taken down. The town says it’s investigating.

Since we aren’t in charge of town business in Thetford, we aren’t overly concerned about Nathan Maxwell. One thing we can say is that if one of our employees was ever stupid enough to say “thanks for the target on your forehead,” or publicly brag about their wanton disregard of people, our investigation would last about thirty seconds.