Editorials from around New England:


Tech giants should pay for what they use

The New London Day

May 20

As the country cautiously awakens from its economic coma, businesses are struggling to unscramble the new rules of customer engagement.

The protocols of social distancing will increase the already high anxiety among consumers worried over their physical and financial well-being. The road to recovery in the new abnormal will be a long and uncertain path. Retail outlets and industries that were in decline before the pandemic must rethink their business models or perish. Nowhere is that truer than the news business.

The coronavirus pandemic drastically curtailed media advertising and put a serious hurt on news operations. The Day experienced a double-digit advertising decline as a pandemic fallout in April over 2019.

The plague greatly accelerated a two-decade retreat of newspaper advertising revenues that were diverted to digital platforms, primarily Google and Facebook. The New York Times estimates that 36,000 American journalists have suffered layoffs, furloughs or wage reductions since the pandemic struck.

But the pandemic also reawakened in Americans the need for in-depth, balanced, credible reporting that trusted local news outlets provide. Newspapers that have maintained newsroom staffs and journalistic standards are reporting readership increases. The Day, which received a federal small business loan under the Paycheck Protection Program, is part of that trend. Day subscriptions are up on both print and digital platforms since the pandemic outbreak.

Publishers have long viewed Google and Facebook as predators who have devoured both their advertising revenues and news content. Publishers have had no success until now convincing the technology giants to pay a license fee for their news content. Now, some national governments are recognizing the threat to journalism in their countries and are taking the digital platforms to task.

Last month, Australia became the first nation to impose regulations on Google and Facebook that force them to negotiate payments with publishers. In France, regulators are writing rules that will command internet platforms come to terms and compensate publishers. These precedents could provide news organizations a much-needed lifeline. Germany is studying similar legislation to help that country’s news organizations. Publishers in Canada, Ireland and Malaysia are pressing their governments for help.

In the United States, where lobbyists are strong and regulators are relaxed, Google and Facebook have stifled attempts to compensate publishers. However, the politics here may be changing.

The News Media Alliance, an association representing 2,000 domestic print and digital news organizations, is seeking an anti-trust exemption from Congress to allow its publishers to use the alliance to negotiate licensing fees as one bloc. The effort is gaining traction among some Democrats and Republicans, who are focusing increased critical attention on the two internet behemoths.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act was introduced in the House of Representatives on April 3 by David Cicilline (D-RI) and Doug Collins (R-GA). The bill creates a 48-month anti-trust exemption for publishers to band together and negotiate collectively for licensing fees with Google and Facebook. Rep. Joe Courtney, the Democrat representing Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District, is a co-sponsor.

Facebook, sensing the political shift, is showing signs of an attitude adjustment. It has begun entering selective financial arrangements for payments to individual publishers for its Facebook News initiative. Facebook has struck three-year licensing deals with a dozen national news outlets. Google, reluctantly, also is entering early discussions with some publishers in France and the United States.

These are good signs that the tech giants are acknowledging some responsibility to underwrite the cost of producing credible journalism. The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act also is a step in the right direction.

However, we would like to see more teeth in the legislation. Congress should follow the lead of Australia and France and mandate that the technology giants support journalism and a free press by entering licensing agreements with media outlets at both the national and local level. There is precedent for congressional action with the cable television services that pay local television stations and broadcast networks retransmission fees.

If similar licensing fees were paid to publishers for their local content, it would help stabilize the domestic news industry. It would preserve journalism jobs and secure the free flow of local news coverage. It would help assure that more Americans are better informed.

Online: https://bit.ly/3bV8aTl



Time has come for End of Life Options Act

The Berkshire Eagle

May 21

Legislation offering the terminally ill the option of ending their lives on their terms is before state lawmakers — and not for the first time. But with COVID-19, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives around the state, prompting a renewed focus on end-of-life issues, we believe that this will be the time the legislation becomes law.

The End of Life Options Act (H.1926/S.1208) enables a person with a life expectancy of six months or less to request and self-administer medication provided by a consulting physician to end their lives. People confronting pain as they die from a debilitating illness should have this option, and it should not be blocked by the opposition of those of a religious faith that the dying person doesn’t practice. While unintentional, opponents on religious grounds are causing people to suffer needlessly to enforce their practices and beliefs.

The person seeking this medical assistance must be deemed mentally competent by a qualified physician. Concerns have long been expressed that greedy families would try to coerce elderly family members to take this option but the bill includes severe penalties for such actions. Nine states, including neighboring Vermont, now have “right to die” or “death with dignity” laws and there is yet to be a documented instance of coercion in the 22 years since the first such law was passed. Similarly, no doctor can be coerced or pressured to participate in an assisted death, and under the law, a consulting physician’s responsibility ends with the writing of a prescription for the necessary drugs.

Those states have found that many people who receive the life-ending drugs never use them. They are a backup in case their suffering becomes unbearable. Medical science can do amazing things, but in enabling people with terminal illnesses to live longer the result can be prolonged suffering that patients should have the right to bring to an end.

The legislation is currently before the Joint Committee on Public Health with a May 30 deadline for action. We urge the committee to approve it and put it before members for a vote. Ideally, before the end of the year, the bill will be passed and signed into law by the governor.

Online: https://bit.ly/2ypKn02



Maine taking risk by not testing at prisons

The Portland Press Herald

May 22

The Maine Department of Corrections on Tuesday announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the state prison system – emphasis on “confirmed.”

Up to that point, only 27 adults and five youths among the more than 1,900 individuals incarcerated in Maine had been tested for the disease. It’s impossible to know whether the Corrections Department missed anyone who was presenting no or only minor symptoms, a large portion of those who get the coronavirus.

The state is now conducting tests of the nearly 700 inmates and staff at Maine Correctional Center in Windham, where an inmate in his 20s tested positive this week. As of Friday, 163 staff members and inmates had been tested, with no additional positives.

But officials are opting not to conduct universal testing across all state correctional facilities, so any as-yet-unidentified cases in those prisons will remain unidentified. The only thing one can say about that with any certainty is that it carries great risk.

From the start of the outbreak, correctional facilities have been singled out as particularly vulnerable, along with other settings where physical distancing is difficult, such as nursing homes and food-processing facilities. And that’s where many of the hot spots have been centered.

In response, populations at Maine’s county jails, where most of the inmates are awaiting trial, have been greatly reduced.

But prison officials have been less eager to release people to home confinement. Prisons remain a place where distancing and hygiene pose significant problems, and where staff has to go in and out every day. They remain highly vulnerable to an outbreak.

Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty said this week that his employees are following all necessary safety protocols. Yet even under those precautions, the coronavirus found its way in.

Because officials wait until someone in prison shows symptoms before they test everyone, the virus has a chance to spread. If the state would test every inmate and staff member now, as inmates, advocates and two prison unions have suggested, it could catch an outbreak before it happens.

Gov. Mills has said that with its new testing capacity, the state will conduct such testing in nursing homes, where many of Maine’s cases and deaths have occurred. Prior to the increase, it was the state’s policy to only test once the virus had spread within a facility.

Maine has been one of the more aggressive states when it comes to nursing home testing. Still, universal testing in nursing homes could have stopped some outbreaks and prevented deaths. But with tens of thousands of residents and staff statewide, and testing scarce, it wasn’t logistically possible, and will still be a challenge.

Universal testing for prisons, with about 3,000 inmates and staff, would be an easier lift, though there are other considerations.

For one, moving forward, the state must make sure it retains enough testing capacity to quickly react when a new case is found, so that it can test every person who came into contact with the newly infected person.

Also, there is a question of how often to test. Just one round would be of limited usefulness, as new chances for infection occur every day.

The state says it is following federal guidance. However, a federal report published last week concluded that screening by symptoms alone is “inadequate to promptly identify and isolate infected persons in congregate settings such as correctional and detention facilities.”

Maryland committed this week to testing every person incarcerated there. New Jersey will test the 18,000 inmates in its system.

Maine doesn’t have nearly the problem with COVID-19 that those two states do. Universal testing in prisons, as well as in other congregate settings, would help keep it that way.

Online: https://bit.ly/2ZwhkmC



Innocent until proven guilty

The Nashua Telegraph

May 22

Nearly every American has suffered financially from the COVID-19 epidemic. At least 36 million of us were laid off from our workplaces. Even those still on the job have seen their retirement savings decimated.

But a few people — those who had some forewarning of the economic havoc to come — may have profited from the epidemic, or at least avoided the investment losses most suffered.

Good for those who did so by paying close attention to the pandemic as it was building in China, in preparation for spreading globally, then thought carefully about investments. They deserve to have benefited financially from their perceptiveness.

Inside traders in Congress are another story.

Weeks ago, there were reports that at least three members of Congress engaged in millions of dollars in stock trades after being briefed earlier this year on what then was the potential for a COVID-19 outbreak here. Public knowledge of the concern came later.

Accusations of insider trading by lawmakers were made against Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; and Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga. All have denied they did anything nefarious.

But last week, the FBI stepped up its investigation of the allegations. Agents went to Burr’s home with a warrant to search his cellphone. Burr, still insisting he had done nothing wrong, stepped down from his position as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In Burr’s case, records indicate he and his wife sold as much as $1.7 million in stocks during late January and mid-February. Some of those shares were in companies such as hotel chains that suffered badly from shutdowns linked to COVID-19.

Any allegation of wrongdoing by members of Congress should be investigated thoroughly, of course. But this one, coming as tens of millions of Americans have had their finances wrecked by COVID-19, is particularly upsetting.

Burr, Feinstein and Loeffler are innocent until proven guilty, of course. But if they did what they have been accused of informally, they should be charged, convicted and punished severely.

Online: https://bit.ly/2WXD5u5



Reset button

The Rutland Herald

May 20

We have heard more people are planting gardens this spring. And that classes about canning and preserving are at capacity already, and the harvest is still months away. People are talking about walking and cycling more, using their vehicles less. And there is a concerted push on to buy local produce, meats and other foods generated right here in Vermont.

As difficult as the pandemic has proven to be at many levels, it has forced three things: We have slowed down (in some cases to a standstill), putting aside the rush of a day; we have reset our priorities, with more of a focus on family and our closest friends; and we are learning new patterns of routine and behaviors, creating a new normal that many of us hope we can carry forward well beyond the pandemic’s cure.

How often do we, as a society, get a chance to hit the reset button. And yet, here we are — presented with one that can, in effect, change our lives, change our policies and change our narrative about how we talk about, politicize and obsess over certain issues.

In many ways, this pandemic has proven to be a blessing in disguise. As a popular YouTube video that is trending right now puts forth: “You have to get sick before you can start to heal.”

Lawmakers have had their focus on COVID-related initiatives. And rightly so. But now (when the session would typically be finished), they are taking up legislation with an eye toward recovery.

And some of that looks like the new normal we are talking about.

Across Vermont — and the nation — COVID has revealed our stark inequities, in income, privilege and so much more. It has refocused society to basics; it has forced our reliance on technology, sometimes revealing better routes toward streamlining and eliminating waste; it has forced unlikely partnerships.

But what lawmakers have before them right now is an opportunity for a brain trust of the Vermont community. For years, decades, actually, Vermont has struggled to reach consensus on its greatest challenges: the graying of the state (and conversely, its brain drain); wages have not kept up with inflation; workforce development has suffered; jobs have become harder to come by, putting strains on all sectors; the cost of living in the state has spiked (taxes, utilities, fees, you name it); and we’ve seen more pollution, and the effects those contaminants have on our water, air and climate.

Lawmakers need to seize this moment, while people have some time to think, to build partnerships and engage a cross-section of our population, with a range of expertise and skills, to solve (or resolve) some of these pressing issues. The mandate sounds easy and logical, and politics (especially in an election year) will always get in the way. But with the right pressure applied by the public to hit the reset button and get Vermont moving on a different course, even a modest one, the benefits will be tremendous.

We have seen great progress and collaboration from the administration and the governor’s task force on recovery. On Wednesday, Gov. Phil Scott announced a two-phase proposal, which includes $310 million to provide “immediate relief” to businesses struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

But there are other ways relief can be proposed for the state.

Lawmakers in the Senate about about to take up the The Global Warming Solutions Act, which offers a strategic planning and implementation framework to ensure we make smart investments that prioritize Vermont’s most vulnerable; put people to work in the local, clean energy economy; and harness those unique assets that make our state more resilient, independent and strong — including our farms, forests and natural resources.

The bill — which passed out of the Vermont House of Representatives in February 2020 — ensures that Vermont take strategic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 and to build climate-resilient communities.

Coincidentally, the act calls for four strategic subcommittees focused on resilience and adaptation; mitigation; equity and justice; and the role of our farms and forests in this essential transition.

For better or worse, COVID brought us to the ideal moment for this discussion. The framework for moving forward in this recovery is sitting in a proposal, waiting for consideration.

The benefits outlined in the act talk of creating jobs and getting Vermonters back to work in the trades sectors and creating clean energy jobs. It also talks about reducing our dependence on vehicles, with a push toward remote workplaces and telecommuting; and, of course, it calls for shifts in environmental thinking but also for infrastructure dollars (and jobs) to prepare for extreme weather events, which have become more common.

We have so many options right now for how best to proceed in this recovery. A reset button would be the most satisfying — both in the short- and long-term. That’s how Vermont heals from a pandemic.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Tv6ZUh