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Ned Lamont Finally is ‘in the Room Where it Happens’


By Mark Pazniokas 

Connecticut’s new governor showed himself Wednesday to be affable, straightforward, optimistic, playful — and even slightly goofy — in his first address to the General Assembly, promising a collaborative approach to rebranding a state down on itself.

Less than two hours after taking office, Gov. Ned Lamont matter-of-factly warned lawmakers that the financially struggling state was teetering “on a knife’s edge,” then assured them he would deliver a budget in six weeks that would bring elusive fiscal stability.

“Let’s fix the damn budget, once and for all!” Lamont said. “You with me?”

Legislators stood, applauding.

Lamont chuckled.

“That’s it,” he said, his voice barely louder than a stage whisper. “Put the pressure on you.”

Exactly how that damn budget will be fixed, well, that is a matter that will wait until some time in February. On this day, the new governor was clearly reveling in the moment.

Lamont, 65, is a Greenwich businessman, a product of Phillips Exeter, Harvard and Yale, and an avowed fan of America’s most ebullient president, Teddy Roosevelt.

Over 23 minutes, Lamont had a bully good time.

He also is a fan of Hamilton, the musical. Lamont grew up in privilege, a man with a family tree in the U.S. that goes back to the time of Alexander Hamilton. But he made repeated references to Hamilton’s scrappiness and his burning hunger to be at the table where history is made, the “room where it happens.”

The line reflected Lamont’s losses in his two previous statewide campaigns for U.S. Senate in 2006 and the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2010.

“Thank you for welcoming me to the room where it happens,” Lamont told the legislators.

A prepared line on voluntarism turned into an impromptu riff on JFK’s inaugural, with Lamont leaning forward and offering a passable Kennedy imitation: Ask not what Connecticut can do for you, ask what you can do for Connecticut. As it turns out, Lamont thinks there’s plenty — from business, labor, politicians, pretty much everyone.

“More on that to come,” he said.

He assured the unions that supported him in the election that he remains committed to collective bargaining, then suggested he might be ready for some bargaining over pension liabilities. “As our liabilities continue to grow faster than our assets, together we have to make the changes necessary to ensure that retirement security is a reality for our younger, as well as our older, state employees, and we’ve got to do that without breaking the bank,” he said.

No hint at how, however.

His task Wednesday was to restate core principles, his approach to Connecticut’s various constituencies, and his expectation for how they all will come together. He warned of difficulties to come, changes he sees necessary in the delivery of government services by the state and municipalities.

“Mayors and first selectmen: Nothing will compromise your feisty independence,” Lamont said, smiling. “But so many services and back-office functions can be delivered at a much lower cost and much more efficiently if they are operated on a shared or regional basis.”

More applause for that line.

Lamont’s wife is Annie Huntress Lamont, a venture capitalist. At times, the governor sounded like a man making a pitch to investors — not expecting to close the deal, but drawing them in, suggesting there was something wonderful to come.

His vision for rebooting the Connecticut economy rests on four legs.

“First, I will take the lead by investing in the first all-digital government, and reverse engineer every transaction from the taxpayer’s shoes. The entry point to Connecticut will be through its digital front door, a one-stop-shop for everything our citizens need. We will be online, not in line,” Lamont said. “It won’t be done overnight, but let’s start today.”

“To attract millennials, top talent and leading companies, Connecticut will need to invest wisely in its urban centers, making them affordable and lively, where families want to live, work and play,” he said.

Third, Lamont signed on to a long-held dream of transportation planners and economic-development advocates, calling for a 30/30/30 rail system. That means 30 minutes fromm Hartford to New Haven, 30 minutes from New Haven to Stamford, and 30 minutes from Stamford to Grand Central in Manhattan.

He was interrupted with a sustained standing ovation.

The fourth leg is workforce development, ensurring that everyone in Connecticut is equipped to come along for the ride if Lamont ever upgrades his railroad. “It’s going to be an economy that works for everyone.”

The bipartisan applause stopped when Lamont turned to his campaign promises to establish a paid family and medical leave program and to raise the minimum wage in steps to $15, catching up to Massachusetts and New York.

“We’re going to do it responsibly, and we’re going to do it over time,” Lamont said.

Democrats applauded. Republicans sat quietly.

“OK, as one of the first governors who comes from the business world, I know how to get this done,” Lamont said. “My primary objective is to get this economy growing again. How do we extend opportunity for those being left behind?

“Growth!

“What’s the long-term fix to our budget?

“Growth!

“How do we attract the next generation of talent to Connecticut?

“Growth!”

He heard a particularly enthusiastic cheer to his right.

“Somebody liked that,” he said, chuckling again.

Lamont took a breath.

“All right, I’m a new governor. You’re a new legislature,” Lamont said. “What can you expect from me? I’m a straight shooter, an honest broker, and I think I’m a good listener. I know what I know, and what I don’t know. I do have a strong sense of where we need to go and what the people of Connecticut expect from us.”

Democrats, who hold comfortable majorities in both chambers, left happy. Republicans said they want to hear more.

Ned Lamont is finally in the room where it happens. Connecticut will find out in the coming weeks who is ready to sing along.

This was first published on ctmirror.org. Featured Photo by ctmirror.org.

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Hartford Native Shawn Wooden Sworn in as State Treasurer


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford native and former City Council Chairman Shawn Wooden was sworn in as Connecticut’s 83rd State Treasurer, pledging to use his office to protect worker’s retirement security while spurring improvements in the state’s economy, infrastructure and educational system.

The Hartford resident was among several elected state officials, including Gov. Ned Lamont, who took the oath of office on Wednesday at the William A. O’Neill State Armory. Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson administered the oath of office.

Wooden showed gratitude for the path that led him to his new position.

“I’m honored beyond works that the people of Connecticut have placed their confidence in me by electing me state treasurer,” Wooden said in a statement. “Having oversight of more than $60 billion in state assets is an enormous responsibility. I assure the taxpayers of this state that every investment and decision I make will be geared towards maximizing returns and moving Connecticut forward.”

Democrat Wooden succeeds Denise Nappier, another Hartford resident, who served as state treasurer for 20 years. Nappier elected not to seek another term.

Wooden, 49, was an investment attorney at Day Pitney, specializing in public pension plans for 21 years.

Before that, he worked for the former Hartford Mayor Carrie Saxon Perry and then as Connecticut Director of Project Vote, a national voter registration and education program. He was also served as a key aide for the Connecticut Commissioner of Social Services.

Raised in the North End of Hartford, Wooden said his is an unlikely journey. The youngest of six children, he participated in Project Concern desegregation busing program and attended Manchester Public Schools, where he graduated with honors. He then went to Trinity College and New York Law School.

Besides his work in the private sector, Wooden served as President of Hartford City Council from 2012 to 2015, leading efforts to close budget deficits, protect the city’s pension system and boost economic development.

His work in the state treasurer’s office is an extension of those efforts, he said.

“Connecticut is facing some enormous fiscal challenges right now, as well as some very exciting opportunities for growth,” Wooden said. “I look forward to using my extensive experience in government and as an investment attorney to take on the very serious work ahead of us.”

Featured Photo: Connecticut State Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden is sworn in by Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson as his sons Senai, 13, (L) and Isaias, 16, (R) hold the Bible.

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If You’re Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t be Yours


A new data analysis by ProPublica and the Urban Institute shows more than half of older U.S. workers are pushed out of longtime jobs before they choose to retire, suffering financial damage that is often irreversible.

By Peter Gosselin

Tom Steckel hunched over a laptop in the overheated basement of the state Capitol building in Pierre, South Dakota, early last week, trying to figure out how a newly awarded benefit claims contract will make it easier for him do his job.

Steckel is South Dakota’s director of employee benefits. His department administers programs that help the state’s 13,500 public employees pay for health care and prepare for retirement.

It’s steady work and, for that, Steckel, 62, is grateful. After turning 50, he was laid off three times before landing his current position in 2014, weathering unemployment stints of up to eight months.

When he started, his $90,000-a-year salary was only 60 percent of what he made at his highest-paying job. Even with a subsequent raise, he’s nowhere close to matching his peak earnings.

Money is hardly the only trade-off Steckel has made to hang onto the South Dakota post.

He spends three weeks of every four away from his wife, Mary, and the couple’s three children, who live 700 miles away in Plymouth, Wisconsin, in a house the family was unable to sell for most of the last decade.

Steckel keeps photos of his wife, Mary, and their three children on the mantel at his rented place in Pierre. (Ackerman + Gruber, special to ProPublica)

With Christmas approaching, he set off late on Dec. 18 for the 11-hour drive home. When the holiday is over, he’ll drive back to Pierre.

“I’m glad to be employed,” he said, “but this isn’t what I would have planned for this point in my life.”

Many Americans assume that by the time they reach their 50s they’ll have steady work, time to save and the right to make their own decisions about when to retire.

But as Steckel’s situation suggests, that’s no longer the reality for many — indeed, most — people.

ProPublica and the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study, or HRS, the premier source of quantitative information about aging in America. Since 1992, the study has followed a nationally representative sample of about 20,000 people from the time they turn 50 through the rest of their lives.

Through 2016, our analysis found that between the time older workers enter the study and when they leave paid employment, 56 percent are laid off at least once or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than choosing to go voluntarily.

Only one in 10 of these workers ever again earns as much as they did before their employment setbacks, our analysis showed. Even years afterward, the household incomes of over half of those who experience such work disruptions remain substantially below those of workers who don’t.

“This isn’t how most people think they’re going to finish out their work lives,” said Richard Johnson, an Urban Institute economist and veteran scholar of the older labor force who worked on the analysis. “For the majority of older Americans, working after 50 is considerably riskier and more turbulent than we previously thought.”

The HRS is based on employee surveys, not employer records, so it can’t definitively identify what’s behind every setback, but it includes detailed information about the circumstances under which workers leave jobs and the consequences of these departures.

We focused on workers who enter their 50s with stable, full-time jobs and who’ve been with the same employer for at least five years — those who HRS data and other economic studies show are least likely to encounter employment problems. We considered only separations that result in at least six months of unemployment or at least a 50 percent drop in earnings from pre-separation levels.

Then, we sorted job departures into voluntary and involuntary and, among involuntary departures, distinguished between those likely driven by employers and those resulting from personal issues, such as poor health or family problems. (See the full analysis here.)

We found that 28 percent of stable, longtime employees sustain at least one damaging layoff by their employers between turning 50 and leaving work for retirement.

“We’ve known that some workers get a nudge from their employers to exit the work force and some get a great big kick,” said Gary Burtless, a prominent labor economist with the Brookings Institution in Washington. “What these results suggest is that a whole lot more are getting the great big kick.”

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Ned Lamont Pledges More Diversity and Inclusion


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Gov. elect Ned Lamont on Saturday reaffirmed his commitment to bring change to the state with diversity and inclusion, saying to a group of African Americans that he will “make sure everybody gets the same opportunity.”

Lamont spoke at the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches’ meeting at the Hartford Hilton Hotel to more than 200 people, including black elected officials, students, clergies, fraternities and sororities.

African Americans voted overwhelmingly for Lamont in the 2018 election. Election results showed that 94 percent of African Americans supported the Greenwich businessman, who pledged to promote diversity in state jobs and to usher in more access to state contracts.

During his campaign, Lamont telegraphed his commitment to diversity and inclusion and followed through with the selection of two African Americans for high level positions in his administration. He recently hired Paul Mounds as his chief operation officer. Mounds, 33, will oversee commissioners and report to Lamont’s chief of staff, Ryan Drajewicz. Lamont also hired Melissa McCaw, 39, as his secretary for the Office of Policy and Management. She is the first African American to hold that job.

Moreover, he appointed State Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport and State Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven to his transition team. Both women are African Americans.

“I think that’s a good move. He’s showing that he’s trying to be diverse and inclusive,” said Greater Hartford NAACP President Abdul-Shahid Muhammed Ansari. “It really was the Democrats’ vote from the inner cities that got him over the hump.”

After Emancipation in 1865, African Americans voted for Republicans. But ever since the 1928 election, they have mostly voted for Democrats. Their allegiance to the Democratic Party was cemented in 1936.

NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile said he wants more return on that investment, calling for more inclusion in all branches of government.

“We want to make sure our people are included at all levels, the commissions, boards and throughout,” Esdaile said.

The meeting was titled “The 94% Black Leadership Summit” because election results showed 94 percent of black voters supported Lamont and the Democratic Party.

Lamont was joined by his running mate, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who invited attendees to send resumes and ideas.

“Send us your best. Go to our website,” Bysiewicz said. “We’re taking all good ideas because it’s for the benefit of our state.”

Lamont and Bysiewicz were coming from another meeting earlier in the day with the General Assembly’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, where they talked about ways to increase the number of black and Hispanic teachers.

He also talked about steering opportunities to the cities, training people for technology jobs, opening up contract bidding to ensure that more minorities have access to those jobs.

“I’m going to make sure everybody gets the same opportunity,” he said. ”Too many of those business opportunities, too many of those contracts seem to go to the same old gang, –and that’s not right.”

Lamont, who defeated Republican Candidate Bob Stefanowski after vote tallies came in from the urban centers the day after the election, said he believes in Connecticut’s cities. He vowed to also direct resources to cities.

“I’m a believer in our cities,’ he said. “Our state will never be great unless our cities are great and I’m going to commit every day to that.”

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How to Get Your Lawmakers to Listen


By Cynthia Gordy Giwa

Hello from the otherrr siiiiide…

You did it! In this month’s midterm election, you and a whole lot of your fellow voters turned out to the polls to make your voices heard. But you’re not done yet. Voting is just the beginning!

The User’s Guide to Democracy has always wanted to help you become not only a more informed voter, but also a more engaged citizen. So, with the winners declared, how do you get your elected representatives in Washington to listen to your voice now?

At a live event on Nov. 13 with the New York Public Library, Derek Willis (my colleague here at ProPublica) and Paul Kane (an ace Congressional reporter for The Washington Post) tackled this question with the help of a panel of Capitol Hill insiders. The event, called “Irregular Order: How Congress Really Works,” was moderated by comedian/actor/writer Wyatt Cenac.

James Wallner, senior fellow for the think tank R Street (and a former Republican Senate staff member); Lindsey Cormack, Stevens Institute of Technology assistant professor of political science; and Stephanie L. Young, communications director for When We All Vote (also a former Democratic House staffer); explained how to get lawmakers to listen to you and act on the issues you care about.

Courtesy of The New York Public Library

Even as Congress seems stuck, there are still things that you can do to influence your lawmakers. Here are a few suggestions from the panel:

  • Vote. Often. “We literally have the power,” Young said of the clout that comes with voting. “I think we forget that, and sometimes you feel powerless. … This is one opportunity for you to go out and make your voices heard, but you have to do it *every time*, and you have to encourage those that you care about, and the people who are influenced by you, to do the exact same. There’s no one who has greater influence than you do.”Even if voting sometimes feels like shouting into the void, the panel also stressed that your elected officials are actually paying attention to who their voting constituents are. “If you email or write something, and they have your address and your name, they’re going to look up your voter file,” Willis said. “The fact that they’re tracking that information should tell you that they’re concerned about hearing from their constituents, and that you’re important.”
  • Visit your district office. Young continued by emphasizing that every member of Congress has a district office you can go to. “There are staff that are there to hear from you. You can write letters. They actually read them; there is someone who is assigned just to do that, and they have to respond to you. I worked for members who were very keen on knowing their constituents — how they felt, what they thought, and they want to read those letters. … Don’t miss those opportunities that we all have because they actually matter. They actually work.”Town halls were raised as another opportunity where you can talk to your legislators in person. Kane recounted the example of Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who was moved by individual interaction with her constituents during the “repeal Obamacare” period of 2017. “She described how, throughout that spring and summer, she would have town halls when she got back to Alaska. Over and over again, people would tell their stories about a pre-existing condition they feared they were going to lose [coverage for], or a husband or wife battling cancer who was afraid to lose health care,” Kane said. “By the end, that won her over, and she voted no.”
  • Write op-eds in your local newspaper. “Senators and members of the house really care about their local newspapers,” Cormack said. “If you write an op-ed that describes why you disagree with what your member did, that freaks them out. That’s where they want their press releases to land. They want that space, and if they have constituents within their own district saying they have a problem with that, that’s a really big red flag for them that they need to come back to the district and figure it out, or they’re going to need to focus on whatever that issue is a lot more, or address it differently.”
  • Work with advocacy groups you agree with.Traveling all the way to D.C., possibly taking time off from work, or putting in the time to write and pitch a newspaper op-ed might feel like a daunting amount of investment to be heard by people who are supposed to work for you. Wallner recommended making use of advocacy groups (i.e. organizations like the Sierra Club or the National Federation of Independent Business).

“We talk about advocacy groups like they’re a bad thing, but it’s usually just the ones we disagree with,” he said. “They have people who care about the same issues, who focus [on them] and are paid to go down to D.C. They make life difficult for members; sometimes they help members. … See what they’re doing and try to participate with them. Their voice is going to amplify your voice, and it’s going to make it harder for Congress to ignore the issues that you care about.”

One thing many advocacy groups do is lobby Congress, both by encouraging members to visit their representatives and by hiring their own lobbyists. You can find advocacy organizations working on issues you’re interested in using Represent’s database of lobbying arrangements.

You can watch the full discussion here, thanks to the New York Public Library, or listen to it on NYPL’s Library Talks podcast. I promise, not only will you learn something, you’ll laugh too.

We’ve come to the end of the User’s Guide to Democracy — but, hopefully, this marks the start of your increased participation in our system of government. From Representto the Facebook Political Ad Collector, you have tools to track what your representatives are actually doing, as well as tactics to hold them accountable. Don’t hesitate to use them. And, remember: Congress works for you.

This was first published on Propublica.org. Cynthia Gordy Giwa is ProPublica’s marketing director.

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Hartford’s Winterfest is Open Now Through Jan. 3


HARTFORD — Hartford Winterfest has opened and will run until Jan. 3.

Greater Hartford residents can now participate in carousel at the Bushnell Park and free ice skating. Thanks to a $30, 000 grant from United Bank.

The grant from United Bank is to ensure that the event is free and open to the public from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Skate rentals are free. And skating lessons are free.

The Bushnell Carousel is open on the weekends and rides are $1.

There is also a Santa Workshop on Saturdays and Sundays from now until Dec. 23.

For more information about Winterfest, click here.

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CT Latinos Voter Turnout Signals New Political Engagement


Across the nation there was a significant jump in Latino participation in the midterm election, and most likely in Connecticut, too.

Latinos have for years had the potential to become a powerful voting bloc. But their failure to turn up at the polls has historically hurt their political clout.

In this year’s midterms, however, they helped give Democrats key wins in Senate races in Nevada and Arizona. In  Texas, turnout rose dramatically in heavily Latino precincts and was also high in Latino areas of California, Florida and New York. There will be 43 Latino representatives in the next Congress — a record number.

In Connecticut, it’s much more difficult to pinpoint Latino voting participation. But an analysis by the Connecticut Mirror determined that cities and towns in the state where Latinos make up 25 percent or more of the population all experienced a significant increase in voter turnout.

 

And, in some of those towns — including Meriden, Ansonia, Stamford, Norwalk, Danbury, New Haven, New London, Windham and Waterbury — the growth in turnout exceeded the boost in voter turnout in the midterm election statewide.

The statewide turnout in the 2014 midterm was 55.6 percent and 65.2 percent in the latest midterm. In New Haven, for instance, turnout was 38.3 percent in 2014 and 58 percent in 2018. Nearly 30 percent of the city’s residents identified themselves as Hispanics or Latinos to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Many of the more than 540,000 Latinos in Connecticut live in the larger cities, which historically have lower turnout.

“People tend to be more transient in cities, and that leads to lower voting rates,” said Gabe Rosenberg, spokesman for the Connecticut Secretary of State’s office.

However, the gap between those larger cities and smaller, higher-turnout towns shrank in the midterm.

“Latinos saw there was a lot at stake, so they came out,” said Marie Bertrand, the incoming president of the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association.

Nationally, a record 29 million Latinos were eligible to vote in this year’s election, according to the Pew Research Center. Preliminary data suggests there was a significant jump in Latino participation.

Speaking at a panel discussion in Los Angeles, Tom Perez, the first Latino Chair of the Democratic National Committee, was quoted as saying the turnout of first-time voters, including Latinos, was “a remarkable phenomenon.”

Since Latinos, in general, favor Democrats over Republican candidates, their increased participation in the midterm bolstered a “blue wave” that helped Democrats seize control of the U.S. House of Representatives and a number of other political offices, including the U.S. Senate seats in Arizona and Nevada and governorships across the country.

The week after the Nov. 6 election, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Latino participation surged 174 percent in 2018, compared to the 2014 midterms.

“Latino voters played a pivotal role in taking back the House,” Lujan told reporters during a conference call organized by the political action committee Latino Victory. “Evidence is clear: Early and active and robust outreach to communities of color — in this case, into the Hispanic community — clearly pays off.”

In Connecticut, it’s harder to decipher the impact of the more energized Latino electorate, but it may have boosted Democrat Ned Lamont’s bid for the governor’s office and helped Democrats boost their numbers in the general assembly.

“Latinos may have helped Lamont, especially in the cities,” Bertrand said. “Most likely they did.”

A coalition of Latino groups has emerged in Connecticut to capitalize on the increased political participation of the state’s Latinos, and ensure that they are represented in positions of influence and power.

COURTESY OF SEN.CHRIS MURPHY
Graduates of the Hispanic Leadership Academy with HUD secretary Julian Castro, center, and members of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus.

The newly formed CT Latino Task Force, a coalition of about 20 individuals and groups that includes the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association, the Connecticut Chapter of the Hispanic Federation and NALEO, is collecting resumes from whom they say are qualified Latinos who want to work in the Lamont administration and is making sure they are reviewed by the governor-elect’s transition team.

“We want to really put a little pressure on the incoming administration to make sure that we can be adequately represented in government positions, but also on boards and commissions,” Beltran said. “We want to make sure that at the end of the day they can’t say ‘We did not receive any applications from qualified Latinos’.”

Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London, said the formation of the CT Latino Task Force is a first and an indication of maturing Latino politics in the state. He also said Connecticut’s Latinos may have come out to vote in greater numbers this year because they are opposed to President Donald Trump’s policies, but noted that wasn’t the only reason for turnout.

“People are starting to see the importance of being locally engaged,” he said.

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No, Turkey Doesn’t Make you Sleepy – but it may Bring More Trust to Your Thanksgiving Table


By Kevin Bennett

‘Tis the season for giblets, wattles and snoods – oh my. On Thanksgiving and Christmas, Americans consume about 68 million turkeys – one for about every five of us. In fact, 29 percent of all turkeys gobbled down in the U.S. are consumed during the holidays.

And where turkey is being eaten, there is inevitably talk of tryptophan – a naturally occurring chemical found in turkey and other foods. This building block of protein often takes the blame for eaters feeling sleepy soon after the Thanksgiving meal.

Science has cleared tryptophan, though – it’s not the culprit when it comes to drowsiness after the feast. There are far more important factors leading to those post-turkey comas, not least of which is my Uncle Clarence’s story about parking at the airport. Add that to free-flowing booze combined with a load of carbohydrates followed by plenty more booze and you have a foolproof recipe for dozing off on the couch. Turkey, chicken, lamb and beef all contain roughly the same amount of tryptophan – ranging from 0.13-0.39 grams per 100 grams of food – yet the sleepiness myth has never surrounded those other foods.

Overeating and drinking are more likely at the root of your post-feast nap. Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.com

So tryptophan is off the snooze-inducing hook. But researchers in the Netherlands suggest it does have a different psychological effect: They’ve discovered that doses of tryptophan (chemically known as L-tryptophan and abbreviated TRP) can promote interpersonal trust – that feeling you get when you look somebody in the eye, shake her hand and think, “I can cooperate with this person and she would reciprocate.”

In a study published in the journal Psychological Science, pairs of volunteers were each given an oral dose of 0.8g of TRP or a placebo. For comparison, a 100g standard serving of turkey about the thickness of a deck of playing cards contains about 0.31g of tryptophan.

Each duo then sat in separate cubicles and played a game where one person (the truster) was given US$7 and had to decide how much to transfer to the other person. The transferred money was then multiplied by three and the trustee could give back part of the tripled money.

The more money you’re willing to give away in the first place, the greater your return in the end – but you have to trust the other person to cooperate. A very simple and profitable game if played right.

The researchers found that the TRP group gave $4.81 on average and the placebo group offered only $3.38. This is a sizable 42 percent increase in transferred money between the two groups.

So what’s going on? Here’s the brain science behind how the tryptophan-trust connection works.

TRP is an essential amino acid found in many foods including eggs, soybeans, chocolate, cheeses, fish, nuts and, of course, turkey. The brain region associated with interpersonal trust – known as the medial prefrontal cortex – is powered by the neurotransmitter serotonin. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers found throughout the body that transmit signals from one nerve cell to another.

Our bodies synthesize many neurotransmitters from simple amino acids which are readily available in our food and can be quickly converted in a small number of biosynthetic steps. The neurotransmitter serotonin is controlled in part by the release of TRP. This means that as you increase levels of TRP you’re able to release serotonin in the brain region specially designed to process trust. Think of a flashing neon sign that reads “trust this person, trust this person.”

A plate of turkey won’t convince you to buy into Cousin Gerald’s pyramid scheme. Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com

Keep in mind, however, that our decisions to trust or not to trust do not rely solely on ingesting TRP. In the real world we take into account personality factors, how well we know someone, previous cooperation with that person, tone of voice, eye contact, body language and so on. These all have a hand in shaping the conscious and unconscious rules that govern our pro-social behavior and trust preferences.

So this holiday season, eat your turkey (or salmon or cashews or cottage cheese or chocolate) and remember that few things are more pleasurable than the joy that comes from sharing a holiday meal with loved ones. Science shows us that tryptophan can promote social bonding, but there still is no substitute for giving thanks. Trust me.

Kevin Bennett is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University. This was first published in The Conversation.

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New Federal Lawsuit Takes on Hartford’s 30-Year School Desegregation Effort — and Challenges the Value of Integration Itself


By Mark Keierleber

Standing outside one of the city’s high-performing magnet schools, LaShawn Robinson decried an enrollment process she believes was stacked against her black son.

Year after year, her oldest son, Jarod, applied to attend one of the city’s magnet schools, which enroll pupils through a competitive lottery. First on a waiting list three times, he was never selected. Without a chance for a quality education, he dropped out of school.

On this chilly October afternoon, Robinson spoke at a press conference outside Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts to explain why she is bringing a federal lawsuit against the state, its education department, and Hartford’s board of education.

The legal battle follows years of efforts to integrate Connecticut’s public school system, among the nation’s most segregated, with one of the widest racial achievement gaps.

But this isn’t your typical school desegregation lawsuit. It’s the process to integrate Hartford schools that Robinson is fighting.

In the federal lawsuit filed earlier this year, Robinson and seven other Hartford parents allege the magnet schools employ an unconstitutional “racial quota” that limits the number of black and Latino students to 75 percent of total enrollment while the lottery system to select students gives preference to white and Asian students from the more affluent suburbs.

“There are hundreds of empty seats, and we’re telling kids, ‘No, you can’t come in there because your quota is already met,’” said Robinson, a mother of five.

The suit is only the latest chapter in a thorny legal saga that has dragged on for close to three decades and has raised tough questions about the meaning and value of integration. The magnet school system, Robinson and her fellow plaintiffs allege, violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Relying on that same amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that intentional racial segregation is unconstitutional because “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

The lawsuit could have major ramifications, not just for Connecticut’s magnet schools but for the future of desegregation efforts nationwide as well. Attorneys with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian law firm based in California that represents the parents pro bono, make no secret of their aim to use the case to set a federal court precedent. Should the case progress to the Supreme Court, said Pacific Legal attorney Joshua Thompson, it could set a new standard that education leaders are “not permitted to discriminate against black or Hispanic kids in order to achieve a diverse student body.” In other words, they aim to prohibit educators from considering race as a factor when assigning students to schools.

If some of Thompson’s rhetoric sounds familiar, it’s not by accident. The legal battle in Connecticut is unfolding against the backdrop of a federal lawsuit challenging Harvard University that could reshape affirmative action admissions policies in higher education. In that lawsuit, Asian-American plaintiffs argue that Harvard’s admissions process, which considers a student’s race among other factors, is discriminatory. That case is largely expected to send the question of affirmative-action-based admissions back to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cara McClellan of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, an attorney for the plaintiffs in Connecticut’s decades-long segregation battle, also represents Harvard student and alumni organizations that claim the elimination of race as a factor would lead to further discrimination against applicants of color.

Traveling from Boston to attend a recent Hartford town hall devoted to the Robinson case, McClellan argued that segregation is at the heart of academic achievement gaps between white and minority students.

“As long as we continue to segregate kids and send them to school based on segregated housing patterns, we’re going to continue to see the achievement gap play out,” she said. That inequity, she continued, is present in everything from resource allocations to hiring quality teachers.

A generation-long battle

In order to understand the stakes in the Robinson case, it is necessary to go back almost 30 years to an earlier — and still ongoing — lawsuit. In many ways, the fate of LaShawn Robinson and her son is bound up with that of another African-American family: Elizabeth Horton Sheff and her son, who began the legal fight to integrate Connecticut schools in 1989.

In its decision in that case, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that segregation between the city schools, which primarily serve low-income students of color, and those in the whiter, more affluent suburbs, violated the state constitution. As a result, Hartford’s magnet schools and an interdistrict transfer program, both designed to encourage voluntary integration, were created. A controversial part of the agreement declared a school segregated if its black or Latino student enrollment exceeds 75 percent.

Horton Sheff acknowledges that the magnet system is imperfect — in fact, her desegregation lawsuit is back in court nearly three decades later. But she argues that the plaintiffs in the Robinson suit, if successful, could dismantle years of progress at the expense of thousands of children in integrated schools.

“It is a voluntary system, so if people choose to stay in segregation, that is their right,” she said. “But they should not try to thwart the efforts of people who want a different kind of education, of families who seek choice.”

Elizabeth Horton Sheff speaks during a recent town hall event at the Hartford Public Library about her 30-year fight to desegregate the city’s public school system. A new federal lawsuit challenging the schools’ enrollment process threatens to derail efforts to integrate the city’s schools, she said. (Mark Keierleber)

Over the past decade, Connecticut has spent $3 billion on the desegregation effort. Nearly half of Hartford’s students — 22,000 in total — are enrolled in integrated schools, said Deuel Ross, an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Although the Defense Fund deems the effort a success, several recent investigations by the local media have offered a more critical appraisal.

One report by the Hartford Courant challenged whether half of Hartford students actually attend integrated schools, putting the percentage closer to a quarter. Another found that the state hasmanipulated the enrollment lottery to benefit white and Asian students at the expense of black and Latino students in segregated neighborhood schools. Because some magnet schools struggle to enroll enough Asian and white children, the investigation found, some minority students have been stuck on the waiting list.

The result is that some schools have eliminated entire grades and others have lost their magnet status altogether. Critically, according to the Courant, some magnet schools that are unable to attract enough white or Asian children leave desks unfilled rather than enroll additional minority children, in order to maintain diversity. Meanwhile, the Connecticut Mirror found that while more suburban students applied to attend the schools last year than children from the city, Hartford youth have better odds of winning than those from the suburbs.

A state education department spokesman didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the lawsuits.

The Courant investigations drew the attention of Pacific Legal’s Thompson. “I thought it was a grave injustice,” he said, adding that children should be able to attend the magnet schools without race being a factor. “Schools are there to educate the kids, and the kids that are most in need of this education are being kept out because of their skin color.”

Ross rejects the notion that Hartford’s schools are constrained by quotas set in the Horton Sheff agreement. Schools are under-enrolled, he said, because the state caps the number of magnet seats it’s willing to fund. Moreover, he said, a handful of magnet schools each year are noncompliant, enrolling minority students at rates higher than 75 percent.

This year, with thousands of students on the magnet school waiting list, state officials aimed to increase the 75 percent segregation threshold to 80 percent but were rejected by a Hartford Superior Court judge.

“Does anybody like the lottery?” Horton Sheff asked during the recent town hall. “The devil himself doesn’t like the lottery. Give me an alternative way to provide this opportunity. I can name one: Have the state fully fund all of the seats that are in demand.”

‘Unintended consequences’

Just hours after the press conference in front of Kinsella Magnet School, plaintiffs and attorneys from both the Horton Sheff and Robinson lawsuits sat at the same table and offered their perspectives to a crowd of about 50 people who showed up at the public library on Main Street. The town hall discussion was designed as an opportunity to hear arguments from both perspectives and to reach some common ground.

Dubbed “The True Cost of Integration,” the event, if anything, seemed only to underscore the pervasive divisions between the two sides. Participants vehemently disagreed, not only about the facts surrounding Hartford’s magnet schools and the state’s desegregation efforts but about the value of integration itself.

Horton Sheff believes that integration helps children become global citizens, regardless of their race and ethnicity. “If you are in a diverse setting and you are exposed to people who think differently than you, then that promotes your own awareness,” she said. “You can’t do that in isolation.”

That notion, however, was not self-evident to some who were featured at the event, including Chris Stewart, a Minnesota-based education reform advocate.

“Nobody goes to Idaho and goes to all-white schools and says, ‘Y’all need some Negroes in here,’” said Stewart, who noted that a similar desegregation lawsuit is ongoing in his state. “I don’t want this, and I don’t want it for you either.”

On a national level, a significant body of research supports the notion that integration offers educational benefits for students of color and from low-income families. One study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that desegregation increased educational and occupational attainment among black youth and improved adult earnings while reducing the probability of incarceration.

Connecticut’s efforts to encourage integration have been lauded as a national model, including by John King, who served as education secretary under then-President Barack Obama. But earlier this year, the Trump administration scrapped Obama-era guidance that outlined strategies for schools to consider race as a way to promote student diversity, such as by looking at the racial composition of neighborhoods — a strategy used in the Hartford magnet school lottery.

What’s clear is that the continued negotiations have major implications, not just for Hartford children but for desegregation efforts nationwide.

For Robinson, victory in the federal courts would eliminate a system that’s keeping black and Latino students from quality schools. Although Robinson’s son Jarod dropped out of school after being denied admission into a magnet school, he now attends an adult education program. Meanwhile, her three youngest children had better luck and now attend Kinsella Magnet School.

Magnet schools were designed to encourage integration, and Horton Sheff worries that a Robinson victory would come at the expense of children currently enjoying an education at one of the city’s integrated schools.

“You’ll totally destroy the magnet school system and disrupt the lives of 22,000 children,” Horton Sheff said, pivoting to a Pacific Legal video that was presented during the town hall. “When the video said, ‘No racial quotas will mean Jarod can go to a magnet school,’ well, there won’t be any magnet schools for Jarod to attend.”

At the end of the day, both sides may be right, said Hartford School Board Chairman Craig Stallings, a defendant in the Robinson lawsuit. In Hartford, he sees a system beset by unintended consequences. Although he recognizes the value of integration, he said the district’s students would be better served if the system focused on improving quality in all district schools.

“Those unintended consequences translate to young men and women being stranded in the inner city,” Stallings said. “You can go to any desolate, blighted block in our city and you’re going to find young men and women standing there because they didn’t get a quality education.”

Mark Keierleber is a senior writer-reporter at The 74, where this was first published.

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Hartford Raises the Age for Buying Tobacco Products. It’s a Good Start.


By Ruth Canovi

Congratulations to the Hartford City Council on passing an ordinance that raises the age of sale of tobacco products to 21. The ordinance, which was introduced by Councilman Larry Deutsch, makes Hartford the first city in the State of Connecticut to pass this policy.

The ordinance, which includes the purchase of electronic cigarettes, was passed just weeks after an announcement from the State Department of Public Health that the number of high school students using electronic cigarettes doubled in just two years.

According to their report, 14.7 percent of high school students reported current use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), compared to 7.2 percent in 2015. The survey found one in 10 ninth graders and over one in five 12th graders currently use ENDS. That report mirror’s the American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control Report which concluded that 14 percent of high school students in the state of Connecticut are using tobacco.

We also know that nearly 95 percent of adult smokers report trying their first cigarette before the age of 21 – and that this policy can save lives.

In fact, according to the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) increasing the minimum age of sale for all tobacco products to 21 could prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer dying from lung cancer – the nation’s leading cancer killer.

Some of those lives are Connecticut’s children — and we applaud Hartford for taking clear and decisive steps to safeguard their future.

The bottom line is that tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, and the leadership in Hartford should be an example for other local municipalities and the state. As of today, California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, and Massachusetts have led the way on tobacco 21, but with Hartford out in front, Connecticut should be next.

Ruth Canovi is Director of Public Policy for the American Lung Association in Connecticut.  

This was first published at ctmirror.org.

 

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