Why disinvesting in the local community college hurts

The state deficit problem is jeopardizing the state’s educational and social safety net resources — what the Governor and Legislature would call “core” services.

Bristol Press’ Jackie Majerus tells a story in today’s local papers that can be replicated thousands of times across the state.

Chipping away at schooling – The New Britain Herald News : New Britain, Conn., and surrounding areas (newbritainherald.com)

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Does New Britain Hospital Figure In Hartford Hospital’s Takeover Plans?

The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC), better known in these parts as New Britain General, has been more than an interested bystander in the debate over the future of John Dempsey Hospital at the University of Connecticut Health Center and its possible takeover by Hartford Hospital.

Recent press reports confirm that all area hospitals are concerned about where major medical facilities will be located and what institution or combination of institutions will control them.

Current legislation to build a new John Dempsey is facing dwindling chances because of its $475 million price in a bad recession. Gov. Rell withdrew support and the Legislature is facing some daunting fiscal issues that suggest this is not the year for any new initiatives. If ever built, a new Dempsey would then become part of the Hartford Hospital system.

With everyone’s eye on the state-financed hospital bill, however, there is unconfirmed but growing speculation in New Britain that New Britain General campus itself may be the takeover target of a revised Hartford Hospital plan. The New Britain Hospital, a comprehensive hospital with just over 400 beds, is minutes away from UCONN’s Dempsey teaching hospital that has over 200 beds. It would be a bigger and, in some ways, more useful acquisition for teaching and the delivery of medical care under the Hartford Hospital system.

HOCC’s New Britain General is one of New Britain’s largest employers with deep and longstanding ties and relationships in the community. Whatever the merits of mergers and consolidations in the hospital industry, a possible loss of local control and governance may be unsettling to many residents and the health care professionals who serve them.

If the speculation turns real, the community needs to be brought into the conversation sooner rather than later.

Iraq Authorization and Wall Street Bailout Votes: Two Of A Kind

The outrage now being expressed in Congress over the excessive bonuses paid to AIG executives — especially from Republicans — is an outrageous display of phony indignation.

When the federal bailout legislation was making its way through Congress last September there was some concern expressed by Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats on reining in executive pay and bonuses. It was Republican insistence on “no strings attached” and Democratic complicity in laissez faire use of public dollars that have brought us to this point.

Legitimate reservations that led Connecticut’s 2nd District Congressman, Joe Courtney, for example, to vote against the bill were set aside to allow the “rescue” to go forward. Courtney was the only member of the Connecticut delegation to vote no on a package that is coming back to bite us.

Saving Wall Street and such conglomerates as AIG trumped writing any oversight protection that would have prohibited this latest display of corporate greed (or should we call it welfare?). A blank check was given to George Bush and Henry Paulson to keep rewarding those who conducted business in ways that have contributed to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

“And there’s no quid pro quo here — nothing that gives taxpayers a stake in the upside, nothing that ensures that the money is used to stabilize the system rather than reward the undeserving,” observed the NY Times’ Paul Krugman last September.

The passage of the bailout is eerily similar to the 2002 Congressional authorization on the Iraq War that, in retrospect, ignored the War Powers Act and was adopted under false pretenses. How many times have we heard legislators from both parties say if “I knew then what I know now I would have voted differently.”

We may be about to hear the same thing on the September bailout vote in Congress. The authorization of force in Iraq and the authorization of bailout money to financial giants showed a rush to judgment. Oversight by a lame duck and irresponsible White House and Congress was missing on both the Iraq vote and on a bailout that is creating anger and resentment across the country.

The Courant: Then and Now

I had the privilege of raising money for Hartford’s Camp Courant back in the early 1990s. For one year I walked to a small cubicle assigned me in advertising at the newspaper’s 285 Broad Street offices to seek support for the century-old free day camp serving thousands of Hartford’s 5-12 year olds. Every day I would go down a corridor passing stacks and stacks of the newspapers left for easy reference — an experience akin to a kid in a candy store for someone like me whose first job out of journalism school was covering city hall, state government and anything else newsworthy for a weekly paper. In the early 1990s the Courant didn’t publish just one or two editions, but more than 10 different “zoned” editions. Bureaus from the Shoreline to the Northwest hills were plentiful and the “oldest continuously published newspaper” in the country probably had three or four times the number of people in editorial and news than is the case now. Before online news took hold, CT’s biggest daily offered a news digest every day at 3 p.m. faxed on one sheet to subscribers who wanted tomorrow’s headline and stories a day early. I remember senior managers saying that lay offs just didn’t happen at a paper that was so dominant in its circulation area.

All of this is a sentimental way of saying that things have changed drastically for our metropolitan newspaper of record. Until a few years ago, even as the internet became pervasive ,the Courant was a public utility for news and commerce that thoroughly “penetrated” the marketplace of ideas and business.

The business models of the linear age and the increasing concentration of newspapers into a few corporate hands are decimating what’s left of newsrooms — last week’s Courant layoffs of State House reporter Mark Pazniokas and others being the latest blow to good reporting and decent coverage in the capital city. You would think the Courant would want to sell off some physical assets, or rent some of the empty cubicles on Broad Street to maintain that kind of experience and talent, if only for a while longer.

Here in New Britain the dismantling of the metropolitan newspaper is complete. The bureau and home to a string of good journalists through the years (Lisa Chedekel, Joanne Klimkiewicz, Mike McIntire to name a few) on South Street quietly closed, consolidated to a regional Middletown office. Gone is the coverage of important City Council meetings and other government actions on a regular basis. The reporters who are left are gamely covering many more towns and doing what they can to deliver the news regionally and with less space in the print edition.

To some extent the revival of The Herald and its new local ownership has abated a total news blackout of what’s happening in politics and government.

And there is still the largely untapped potential of local journalism to define itself in cyberspace: “The ease of blogging and exchanges of opinions online are addressing some gaps in the greatly diminished coverage of the dailies. It’s also true that there is infinitely more news and opinion available globally for any interested reader,” a recent blog noted about saving the hometown dailies.

But the situation remains difficult for an effective “Fourth Estate” locally and regionally. The further erosion of reporting and coverage by the Courant is a painful reminder that a void in how we keep the politicians honest and stay informed will get worse before it gets better.

(You can make a donation to Camp Courant at the above referenced website. It’s a nonprofit bearing the newspaper’s name that is a very worthy cause in Hartford)