– Lowell Politics and History

Getting a grip on ebola by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

ebola-hits-ny-headlineNew York City likes to see itself as informed and sophisticated, but the city’s response to its first case of ebola was anything but.  The headlines screamed “Ebola in NYC.” News stories on television and on the electrified sides of skyscrapers flashed danger. Photos of the doctor diagnosed, who had ridden the subway, eaten at a restaurant and gone bowling, made him out to be one of the FBI’s most wanted. Mayor Bill de Blasio felt it necessary to ride the subway to reassure the public it was safe for travel.

The fear on the streets was probably heightened by the terrorist hatchet attack on four policemen the very same day.  Fear was rampant. North of Manhattan a teenager got a nosebleed and worried that he had Ebola.  Governors Cuomo and Christie, both of whom have reputations as bullies, issued a quarantine mandate for health workers returning from West Africa whether they were symptomatic or not. A nurse landing in Newark International Airport from West Africa was forced into an isolation tent despite the absence of any evidence she might be contagious. She was released to travel to Maine, where she is still fighting that state’s mandatory 21-day quarantine.

Politicians are integrating fear-mongering into their campaigns, with New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown calling for travel bans, and interdiction at the Mexican border.

Ebola is very scary. If you doubt it, read The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story, by Richard Preston, published in 1994.  Public health data bear out the assessment. Seventy percent (up to 90 percent according to the World Health Organization) of ebola victims in Africa die.  There has been one death in the United States.  Medical experts know what to do, and in the U.S.  they have the resources to do it. The small handful of additional patients here who have tested positive and been treated have all ultimately been declared free of the virus.

The best protocol is stopping ebola at its source in West Africa, especially Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. That will take the continued involvement of Western health care workers, dedicated doctors and nurses trained in treating ebola cases and willing to go to the source to help stop its spread.  The worst outcome of demonizing them upon their return and imposing excessive restrictions on their lives is deterring others from going to Africa to treat the afflicted.

We should be treating these health workers like heroes. If you’re going to impose a 21-day quarantine for anyone who has had direct contact with ebola patients, perhaps it should be an all-expenses-paid vacation at a specifically designated resort, where they could be monitored, eat well, work out, relax, be in touch with their families – an upgraded R & R.  U.S. troops building treatment facilities in West Africa are quarantined for 21 days in Italy and are apparently in good spirits.

Nor should these nurses and docs lose any income from extreme protocols. They should receive full pay for their time in quarantine. Anything less is an unfair punishment that penalizes them for their service and discourages others from helping.

For those who are not symptomatic, self monitoring, along with restricting access to public places like restaurants and public transportation, would seem reasonable and effective to reassure an anxious public. We should remember that the disease is not contagious until a patient is symptomatic, and then only with contact with bodily fluids or contaminated objects like clothing and bedding.   Health workers know best what the stakes are in the spread of this terrible disease. Why should we expect them to act anything other than prudently, respectful of the general population and the public health implications of exposure to ebola?

I welcome your comments in the section below.

Lowell City Council Meeting: October 28, 2014

Motion by Councilor Mercier requesting City Manager request organizers of Baystate Marathon to alter the course of the race next year so that all of the bridges in the city aren’t shut down.  Councilor Mercier says

I filed this motion for no other reason to create better harmony between the city and the organizers of this event.  In no way do I intend to stop this event nor reroute it.  I know the benefits the city receives by them being here.  I know that this city offers the best course because it is flat and it serves as a good qualifier.  Because of this it separates Lowell from other communities.  Therefore this race defines Lowell.  I know that in the past we have asked this organization for better signage and Baystate complied and put out more electronic signs.  I know that there have been articles written in national magazines about Baystate, and that Lowell is always a part of the story.  Through this motion I am asking the city manager to meet with Baystate officials to see if the city and Baystate can come up with a more comprehensive plan in place for moving traffic along.

I know people are trying but when four of the bridges are closed, but I’m not being the bearer of bad news here.  I know that people can get upset when they’re waiting in traffic.  I’ve had people tell me that they were late for work but I don’t think they are here tonight to say that.  I know there are times when people like to complain because they want things to happen faster, at the snap of a finger but that can’t possibly happen.

I know there are a large number of people here this evening.  I know that my friend Deb Belanger and Andy St Onge tried for many years to bring this event here and they succeeded.  I, being a friend, certainly don’t want to stop that.  I do want people to come up to the podium and tell the people who are complaining what benefits there are derived from this because I know there are plenty.

Even though the race is on a Sunday, some people still have to go to their jobs and they were detained.  I made this motion for that specific reason alone.  If we could create better harmony for everyone, this motion aims to do that.  If we could come up with a better traffic control plan in place, that’s all I’m asking for.  So maybe I should amend the motion to say that we sit down and speak about a better traffic control plan.

Citizens speaking on the motion:

Glenn Stewart, race director for Baystate Marathon: Appreciates support just stated by Councilor Mercier.  We understand frustrations of those stuck in traffic.  We try to reach out in advance to the community. Baystate has been in Lowell for 25 years.  The vision of having the race downtown was the vision of Andy St Onge as a way of bringing people into downtown.  We have succeeded in that vision.  Thousands of runners, their families and friends come to Lowell each October.  Says CVB calculates Lowell gets $400,000 direct benefit from this event.  Talks about all the things the organizers do for Lowell, especially young people, throughout the year.  As for the race, they do limit the number of runners to try to minimize traffic problems.  They put up many signs around the city the week before the race.

Jeffrey Clark of Middle St reiterated earlier comments.  Doesn’t agree with the motion as written but thinks anything that would improve traffic flow would be good.

Several other people speak in support of the race.  The director of amenities for the race goes through all the money spent directly with Lowell vendors.  Says changing the route will negatively affect the race.  Lives in Lowell and it’s the running community that keeps her here.  Deb Belanger from Convention and Visitors Bureau which has been involved in Baystate for past 12 years ever since it came to downtown.  Baystate has some of the best organizers I’ve ever worked with.  Says she’s glad Councilor Mercier is willing to reword her motion and says we should look for ways to embrace this event.

After the public has finished speaking, Councilor Mercier says that she has quite a knack for wording a motion that will draw a crowd.  People watching at home would have never known about the woncerful impact this event has on Lowell.  Amends the motion to have the race organizers meet with the city manager to discuss parking flow.

Councilor Samaras requests the Mayor bring the organizers back some night and give them a citation for all they do for the city.  Councilor Belanger personally thanks the organizers for what they do to enhance Lowell through this event.  We have a lot of great events.  Unfortunately, some of our residents are inconvenienced but that’s something we have to live with.  Councilor Martin commends them for showing passion for the race but also for the city.  Motion amended and matter referred to City Manager to meet with organizers to find ways to improve traffic flow.

Motion Responses

Representatives for National Grid and Verizon have been summoned to answer Councilor Leahy’s questions about double telephone poles.  Councilors commend both utilities on reducing the number of double poles.  Councilor Kennedy asks how much lower the number will go.  Utility reps say for a city the size of Lowell the current number of 80 or so is about where it will always be.  [momentary silence from the council after that comment].

Regarding making smokestacks into illuminated Christmas trees.  Will meet with owners of smokestacks and invite them to do the same thing.  Will try to get some done this year.

Subcommittee Reports

CC Leahy reports on Neighborhood Subcommittee meeting from earlier tonight.  Received a report on problem properties that have been closed down recently.  Also discussed crime, especially rise in number of break-ins and trying to improve police response to those kinds of crime.  Councilor Milinazzo presses the city manager to get a detailed report from the police chief on what the councilor characterizes as “pretty outrageous behavior on the part of a detective.”  Councilor Belanger says he knows the person who complained and knows her to be very credible.  What she said was very disturbing.  He says we have all this data and we don’t seem to be getting our money’s worth.  Thinks if there’s a pattern of break-ins, the neighbors should be notified quickly of that pattern.  Looks forward to CM’s response.  Councilor Mercier suggests doing a reverse 911 to notify neighbors.

Council Motions

CC Milinazzo requests report on number of police calls to group homes for violations of curfew.  If kids break curfews at these contracted group homes, it’s Lowell Police that are enforcing their curfews so it might be a misallocation of city resources.  CM Murphy says the one group home on Nesmith St has had 235 calls to the police.  He’s meeting with someone from the state next week to try to get to the bottom of it.

CC Belanger to have city inspect West Sixth St fire state roof (which leaks).  Says he understands this is in the process of being fixed so we should be all set.

CC Kennedy requests asking School Committee to develop a STEM curriculum for Lowell High School.  (Science, technology, engineering and math).  Says parents are looking for this type of training when selecting schools.  Some may say that Lowell High has something similar but it’s not called STEM.  Maybe it’s a branding thing.  Anything we can do to make LHS more desirable is a good thing and will also have a positive effect on residential property values.

CC Rourke request city manager submit an application for the Bloomberg Public Art Challenge which is a contest for urban areas to qualify for up to $2mil over a two year period.  Lowell has a growing artist community but it also has a long tradition of public art.  Anything that helps bring people together in this kind of partnership is a good thing.  There will be many benefits to promoting public art in Lowell.  CM Murphy says he spoke with Paul Marion at UMass Lowell who is willing to take a leadership role.  Mayor Elliot had already contacted Susan Halter who has some ideas.

Meeting adjourns

“Yes on Question 3″ by John Edward

John Edward teaches economics at Bentley and UMass Lowell. He’s a frequent contributor of columns on economic issues.

Question 3: A YES VOTE would prohibit casinos, any gaming establishment with slot machines, and wagering on simulcast greyhound races.

Supporters of question 3 cite social, ethical, moral, and quality-of-life objections to casinos. They are all valid fears.

I will make the economic case against casinos. Casinos will destroy jobs. Casinos will not generate the promised revenue. Gambling is a terrible choice as a form of taxation.

Gambling advocates say casinos will create jobs. They will generate temporary construction jobs. So would investing in the repair of roads and bridges. So would building new manufacturing and research facilities. We should be constructing things that build up our economy.

There will be permanent jobs at the casinos. Why – because people will spend money at them. Where will the money come from? Casinos will divert spending away from local convenience stores, entertainment venues, restaurants, and retail. People who currently spend in Greater Lowell will be spending at “destination” casinos.

Economist Joseph Schumpeter coined the term “creative destruction.” He observed that the progress of innovation destroys jobs and entire industries.

Destination casinos will create jobs in an old industry and destroy jobs in the creative industries for which Lowell has become a destination. There is nothing innovative about casinos.

Casino proponents trumpet the jobs created. They overlook the jobs lost — a waitress here, an artist there, a job or two at a time. However, they will add up. Some businesses will go out of business. The Final Report of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission cited the potential for job creation but concluded these results: “may mislead readers to conclude that the introduction of gambling activities in an area will result in significant benefits without attendant costs, which may, in fact, overwhelm the benefits.”

How permanent the casino jobs will be is not clear. Four casinos have closed in New Jersey this year. Casinos were great for Las Vegas when they had a near monopoly. Casino expansion has diluted the market. In the northeast, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all have casinos.

Casinos are facing stiff competition from on-line gambling. Morgan Stanley projects the U.S. on-line gambling industry to generate $3.5 billion in annual revenue by 2017. They recently lowered their estimate due in part to market saturation.

A bet on casinos is a gamble on an industry in decline. A recent press release from Moody’s Investors Service: “revised its outlook on the US gaming industry to negative from stable. The negative outlook reflects recent declines in comparable monthly gaming revenue for most jurisdictions.”

Gambling supporters promote casinos as a way to keep money in the state. They claim Massachusetts residents spend about a billion dollars at casinos in adjacent states.

The former UMass Dartmouth Professor who came up with the estimate used a questionable method of counting cars by state license plates in casino parking lots. The pro-casino forces provided him with funding. Even so, the numbers have been going down. In 2006 Massachusetts residents spent an estimated $876 million at Connecticut casinos, in 2011 $624 million, and $554 million in 2012.

Massachusetts residents spend a lot of money on a lot of products produced out of state. As examples, we currently import large amounts of medical diagnostic equipment, voice and image processing machinery, electronic integrated circuits, and artificial joints. Massachusetts could and should manufacture products like that.

Why should we promote an industry just because we import? Why should we promote an industry where we have no competitive advantage? Why should the Commonwealth of Massachusetts promote an industry with the economic and social costs associated with gambling?

The state is currently addicted to lottery revenue. Beacon Hill will get addicted to the gaming tax applied to casino revenue. Lottery revenue will fall immediately. Casino revenue will decrease as other states dilute the market even further.

Gambling is one of the worst ways to generate revenue. Gambling taxes are very regressive – they fall most heavily on low-income earners. They will reduce sales and excise tax revenue as spending is diverted to gambling.

Massachusetts already has a very regressive tax structure. A study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that low-income earners in Massachusetts pay state and local taxes at a rate twice as high as the top 1 percent of income earners.

A tax on gambling is one of the most regressive forms of taxation available. A study by the National Center for Policy Analysis estimated that low-income earners pay gambling taxes at a rate ten times as high as high-income earners.

The social problems that come with casino gambling are excellent reasons to repeal the casino legislation. An even better argument might be that the economic arguments offered by casino fans are so weak.

Vote Yes on Question 3.

Saab Emerging Technology Center

The Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technology Center from Southwick Hall at UMass Lowell North Campus.  Photos by Tony Sampas.


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