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Russ Fiorey of Crescendo Acres Farm in Surry throws a donated Christmas tree to his alpacas on Wednesday. The Surry farm has been accepting Christmas tree donations for their alpacas, and mini horses who eat the bark, for five to six years and has received four trees so far this year. Owners Russ and Diana Fiorey, who also sell Christmas trees on their farm, started accepting donations and giving their animals the extra trees from the farm after reading an article about recycling and sustainability and learning their alpacas prefer trees to grass. The farm prefers Christmas trees that are donated early in the season, since the alpacas prefer the moisture of the greenery to the drier trees they may receive in March with fewer needles.


The alpacas of Crescendo Acres Farm eat the needles and chew on the branches of a donated Christmas tree on Wednesday. The Surry farm has been accepting Christmas tree donations for their alpacas, and mini horses who eat the bark, for five to six years and has received four trees so far this year. Owners Russ and Diana Fiorey, who also sell Christmas trees on their farm, started accepting donations and giving their animals the extra trees from the farm after reading an article about recycling and sustainability and learning their alpacas prefer trees to grass. The farm prefers Christmas trees that are donated early in the season, since the alpacas prefer the moisture of the greenery to the drier trees they may receive in March with fewer needles.


Local
Draft legislation would allow discrimination based on gender identity

State lawmakers are again attempting to pass a law that would allow schools to discriminate against transgender athletes.

Draft legislation in Concord, HB 1180, would add new language related to gender to the law covering birth records.

It would insert a paragraph saying public entities — like schools or jails — can differentiate between people assigned male or female at birth.

Similar proposed legislation targeting trans athletes failed last session. Laws discriminating against transgender athletes violate Title IX, which protects trans students at school.

Republican Representative Linda Gould of Bedford is one of the bill’s sponsors. She says the Manchester School District’s decision in early 2021 to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity inspired this legislation.

“I remember reading about that and that got me going in that direction,” she said.

She says the bill will ensure local entities can retain control of their policies.

But Representative Gerri Cannon, a Democrat from Somersworth, called it a “bully bill.”

“This is the second or third time they’ve tried to put together legislation to block transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports. That’s the bottom line,” Cannon said.

This law is broader than previous versions and includes the regulation of jails, prisons, and bathrooms.

Cannon says she expects trans people and their families will show up at the coming legislative sessions to voice their concerns over this legislation.


Local
top story
Westmoreland couple welcomes first local baby of 2022
  • Updated

BRATTLEBORO — Slightly ahead of schedule, Cailey and Jack LaPorte welcomed their newborn daughter into the world over the weekend.

The Westmoreland couple’s second child arrived at 12:24 p.m. Saturday at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital — the first birth reported by a local hospital in 2022.

Baby Kennedy Grace LaPorte weighed in at 8 pounds, 1 ounce and 20 inches long.

Cailey, who works at Savings Bank of Walpole, said her delivery went smoothly, even though Kennedy decided to show up six days early.

She and Jack — a Keene police officer — hope to be back home with their new bundle of joy by Tuesday. Then, Kennedy will meet her big sister Ryley, who turned 20 months-old the day of Kennedy’s birth.

“She’s with her grandparents,” Cailey said of Ryley. “I can’t wait to introduce her.”


Wapo
Southeast US poised for a firestorm of omicron cases, with few safeguards in place

The United States is heading into the third year of the coronavirus pandemic with the extremely contagious omicron variant poised to ignite a firestorm of infection across the Southeast after exploding through the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

Lower vaccination rates and fewer mask and vaccine mandates have created a much different environment for the omicron variant to spread in the South, leaving experts unsure whether outbreaks will end up deadlier than in the North.

Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi are among the states experiencing the sharpest increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations since Christmas, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. And the situation may only get worse, as initial outbreaks in metropolitan areas spread to more poorly vaccinated rural regions.

Georgia has shattered records, with nearly 1 in 3 tests coming back positive in the last week of December — and in metro Atlanta, nearly half of tests were positive. New daily infections in Florida have hit an average of about 43,000 — far above the peak of 23,000 reached during the delta variant surge in the summer. Louisiana also has eclipsed daily infection records set during its summer surge, with 12,500 cases reported Thursday, which state officials said was nearly twice the record, established in August.

David Rubin, who monitors coronavirus trends nationally for PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said he expects the Southeast to be a major driver of the nation’s cases this month. But he said he expects a fast decline, mirroring patterns observed during omicron variant surges in South Africa and Britain.

“The [South’s] bigger test is probably going to be in the summertime, when they usually have their big surges,” Rubin said. “We are going to continue to have waves in the new year that I think will become lesser in amplitude over time and will lead to fewer hospitalizations over time.”

Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan cautioned Sunday that the next month could mark the “worst part” of the pandemic in his state, with residents who are unvaccinated against the virus placing a strain on hospitals. Hogan appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” days after Maryland hospitals eclipsed a record set a year ago of more than 2,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

In New York, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul has held regular briefings since cases started exploding and has required businesses to mandate proof of vaccination for entry or that customers wear masks. But Republican governors in Southern states with outbreaks have remained comparatively muted and have resisted measures to contain the spread, as they did during the delta variant surge.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said he would not reconsider his ban on local mask mandates and told a radio station that “we’re moving forward with life as we know it” when asked recently about his response to the omicron variant.

As infections in Georgia surge to record highs and hospital beds fill up faster than in any state besides New Jersey, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp announced that his administration would expand testing sites, deploy 200 National Guard troops to hospitals and testing sites, and spend up to $100 million to add as many as 1,000 health care workers. But he pointedly rejected measures to contain the virus and criticized Atlanta for recently reimposing a mask mandate.

“It is time to trust our citizens to do what’s right for themselves and their families,” Kemp said in a statement Wednesday. “That is why I will absolutely not be implementing any measures that shutter businesses or divide the vaccinated from the unvaccinated, or the masked from the unmasked.”

Harry Heiman, a public health professor at Georgia State University, said such an approach is more about managing the consequences of a virus surge rather than trying to quell it.

“Unfortunately, the deja vu we are experiencing in Georgia also includes state-level public health leadership that in the face of a predictably severe surge of the pandemic is really doing very little to proactively respond,” Heiman said.

“We will see more people hospitalized and more people dying, especially as it moves into the more rural parts of our state, where there’s a higher number of people who are unvaccinated and less health care infrastructure to take care of people when they are sick,” he said.

Monty Veazey, president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, said the small, largely rural hospitals he represents are bracing for the coming weeks, especially with the potential of hospital staff members calling out sick.

“People need to know if they come to a hospital during a surge, they are going to have to be patient,” Veazey said. “This issue is not going away. We must live with it just like the flu, and the only way to really curb that is to be fully vaccinated.”

But the South remains the most poorly vaccinated region of the United States, with about half the population vaccinated in most Southern states, unlike in New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia, where about 7 in 10 residents are fully vaccinated as omicron variant cases surge. Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas also have some of the nation’s lowest booster rates, as does D.C.

That has raised acute concerns about Southern hospitals that may not be able to bank on a largely vaccinated community ending up with mostly mild symptoms. Hospitals have warned they can be overwhelmed by even smaller surges in cases if infected staff members are sidelined, or if even a small fraction of those sickened in a huge outbreak are admitted.

“So, you are going to have a lot more people who are going to get sick because they don’t have any immunity,” said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “Now, the South has had pretty substantial outbreaks already, and it may be that people have some natural immunity. That could be the one thing that perhaps is a saving grace.”

Louisiana has urged vigilance among residents who were infected during a massive summer spike that prompted the governor to impose a statewide indoor mask mandate and the mayor of New Orleans to mandate proof of vaccination to enter the city’s music venues and restaurants. State officials reported that about 1,200 people had experienced reinfections in addition to about 9,500 people infected for the first time at the end of the year.

Experts say this is not surprising, especially given evidence from South Africa that the omicron variant is reinfecting people in droves. But it remains unclear whether disease-fighting antibodies from previous bouts of the virus can stave off the worst complications, keeping unvaccinated people infected with omicron out of the hospital. Experts believe immunity induced from vaccines has that effect.

“It’s so hard in the midst of this process to understand whether previous natural infection might also provide some benefits in terms of severe illness. That’s far more difficult to understand,” said Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University in New Orleans. In the meantime, those who have previously gotten the delta variant “shouldn’t count on that protecting them — certainly not from infection, which means they could spread it to a whole host of people with their family and workplace.”

As in the summer wave, about 80 percent of those now hospitalized in Louisiana with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake medical center in Baton Rouge, said vaccinated patients are generally coming in for precautionary visits because of other medical conditions that could be aggravated by the virus, while unvaccinated patients are coming in as sick as they were during the delta variant wave.

“We see this idea a lot: Surely everybody has had this. Surely enough people have been infected [that] the pandemic is going to go away. And it just has not played out,” O’Neal said.

“All we can say is people who have been previously vaccinated are faring better,” O’Neal said. “That’s the only trend I can take from all of these surges.”

Louisiana Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards urged residents to celebrate New Year’s Eve only with other members of their household to control the spread of the virus, citing explosive omicron variant numbers. He recommended masking but did not reimpose a mandate as he did during the summer, when hospitals warned they were at risk of being overwhelmed.

While the threat of the omicron variant has led to the return of mask mandates or new vaccine rules in blue parts of the country such as D.C. and the San Francisco Bay area and in communities across the Northeast, mandates are unlikely to return in large numbers in conservative swaths of the country.

That’s by design in many places such as Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly taken steps to limit public health powers. Most recently, DeSantis called a special session of the state legislature to pass bills restricting the ability of businesses and local governments to mandate masks and vaccines.

Experts say such measures, which have proliferated across the country, will make it harder to stop surges of the omicron variant.

“The best way to prevent infection right now is to have everyone wearing a mask, and we know without a mandate that’s not going to happen,” said Cindy Prins, a University of Florida epidemiologist.

Orange County Democratic Mayor Jerry Demings has drawn fire from DeSantis for attempting to enforce social distancing rules and for imposing a vaccine mandate on county workers.

Central Florida hospitals have not raised alarms about being overwhelmed as they did during the summer surge. Still, Demings said he wants the option to impose temporary mask mandates in the event a massive omicron variant spike leads to widespread worker shortages in a region dependent on winter tourism. He also criticized DeSantis for not holding news briefings or regularly addressing the omicron surge in the state.

“Those tools are all controlled by the state of Florida, but where is the state, where is the governor right now? He is missing in action,” Demings, who is married to Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Val Demings, said in an interview.

“What we are seeing here is this sleight of hand going on,” the Orange County mayor said. “On the one hand, our governor says we want to empower local governments but effectively took all the power away from local governments. They are not filling the void. They are not stepping up.”

Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, referred questions to state health officials, who did not respond. But she questioned the value of aggressive measures to contain the omicron variant, contending that regions with “strict mask mandates and vaccine passports are experiencing the same or worse surges than the open areas of the country.”


Wapo
1 in 3 Americans say violence against government can be justified, citing fears of political schism, pandemic

Phil Spampinato had never contemplated the question of whether violence against the government might be justified — at least not in the United States. But as he watched Republicans across the country move to reshape election laws in response to former president Donald Trump’s false fraud claims, the part-time engineering consultant from Dover, Del., said he began thinking differently about “defending your way of life.”

“Not too many years ago, I would have said that those conditions are not possible, and that no such violence is really ever appropriate,” said Spampinato, 73, an independent.

The notion of legitimate violence against the government had also not occurred to Anthea Ward, a mother of two in Michigan, until the past year — prompted by her fear that President Joe Biden would go too far to force her and her family to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“The world we live in now is scary,” said Ward, 32, a Republican. “I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but sometimes it feels like a movie. It’s no longer a war against Democrats and Republicans. It’s a war between good and evil.”

A year after a pro-Trump mob ransacked the Capitol in the worst attack on the home of Congress since it was burned by British forces in 1814, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll finds that about 1 in 3 Americans say they believe violence against the government can at times be justified.

The findings represent the largest share to feel that way since the question has been asked in various polls in more than two decades. They offer a window into the country’s psyche at a tumultuous period in American history, marked by last year’s insurrection, the rise of Trump’s election claims as an energizing force on the right, deepening fissures over the government’s role in combating the pandemic, and mounting racial justice protests sparked by police killings of Black Americans.

The percentage of adults who say violence is justified is up, from 23 percent in 2015 and 16 percent in 2010 in CBS News-New York Times polls.

A majority continue to say that violence against the government is never justified — but the 62 percent who hold that view is a new low point, and a stark difference from the 1990s, when as many as 90 percent said violence was never justified.

While a 2015 survey found no significant partisan divide when it comes to the question of justified violence against the government, the new poll identified a sharper rise on the right — with 40 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of independents saying it can be acceptable. The view was held by 23 percent of Democrats, the survey finds.

Acceptance of violence against the government was higher among men, younger adults and those with college degrees. There was also a racial gap, with 40 percent of White Americans saying such violence can be justified, compared with 18 percent of Black Americans.

People’s reasoning for what they considered acceptable violence against the government varied, from what they considered to be overreaching coronavirus restrictions, to the disenfranchisement of minority voters, to the oppression of Americans. Responses to an open-ended question on the survey about hypothetical justifications included repeated mentions of “autocracy,” “tyranny,” “corruption” and a loss of freedoms.

The growth in the share of Americans willing to accept violence against the government identified by The Post-UMD poll may be partly due to methodology. Previous surveys were conducted by phone, while the new poll was largely conducted online, and studies have found respondents are more willing to voice socially undesirable opinions in self-administered surveys than when asked by an interviewer.

Recent surveys, though, have identified a similar trend, and subsequent interviews of some of the 1,101 respondents who participated in the Dec. 17-19 Post-UMD poll found that the events of the past two years have prompted people to reconsider their views. (The new poll has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.)

It wasn’t until Jan. 6 that 75-year-old Beverly Lucas considered the fact that people could attempt to violently attack the government. Lucas, who voted for Trump and identifies as a Republican, said she was horrified watching the images of people clad in “Make America Great Again” apparel storming the Capitol, assaulting police officers who were guarding the building.

“That never should have happened in this country,” she said. “It’s a sobering idea that elected representatives should fear for their lives because of a mob.”

Still, Lucas said she had not ruled out the possibility that she would agree with violence if there was no available nonviolent alternative, referencing the Revolutionary War.

“When in the course of human events the government no longer represents the people, and there is no recourse, then it might be time,” she said.

“I don’t think that will ever happen,” she added.

The Capitol attack also set off alarms for Rob Redding, 45, a New York political independent who has been a talk-show host and runs a website focused on Black-oriented news. He said he has since considered arming himself to protect his loved ones.

The insurrectionists, he said, were attempting to “subvert American democracy because now it’s becoming equal for all people.”

“We are in a state where we’re going to have to arm ourselves, absolutely,” Redding said. “I’m a Black man in America... . I believe in protecting myself.”

Redding added that he doesn’t believe in breaking laws “unless laws are unjust.” “To sit up here and say that I support violence against our government, I don’t. I support government being level and equal for all people.”

Taylor Atkins, 29, who lives in Atlanta and works in health-care administration, said she “absolutely” believes it is justifiable to take arms against the government in situations where those in power use their positions to oppress Americans, particularly those of ostracized identities.

Atkins, a Democrat, described the Jan. 6 riot as “insane,” saying “there wasn’t a need for violent outrage just because the president that you wanted to didn’t win.”

But, she added: “For people of color — I’m Black — we’re actually losing our lives. We’re actually fighting over if my life is valuable.”

A new mom, Atkins said she didn’t join Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020 because she had a baby back home. She also said she doesn’t support looting — but often, she noted, that’s the only way demonstrators can get attention.

Atkins said she has considered arming herself for her own “protection,” especially as the pandemic continues heightening tensions between civilians and the government. She pointed to clashes in Europe last year, where thousands of civilians protesting coronavirus measures fought police across the continent.

“I feel like that’s justified because, obviously, we do all care about each other ... but everybody has the right to be a person and be free and make their own decisions,” she said. “As long as they’re not truly impacting somebody else, as far as they have COVID and are not going to the store and actually coughing on somebody, they should be allowed to leave their house.”

Ward, the Michigan mother of two and self-employed housekeeper, said she would not participate in violence that she anticipates could come in her lifetime if the government imposes stricter rules such as an expansive vaccine mandate. She said she believes other people could be justified to “express their Second Amendment right” if the government infringes their freedom of choice and nonviolent action such as protests were unsuccessful.

Despite voting for Trump, Ward and other Republicans expressed disappointment with the insurrection on Jan. 6, saying they did not believe rioters had justification to commit violence.

Many respondents, particularly Republicans, cited the hardening battle lines over public health measures — and how far the government might go to combat the coronavirus — as a factor in their shifting views.

Don Whittington, 62, who lives in Prattville, Ala., and works in construction, said the pandemic has shown how easily it can be for some Americans to lose control over their freedoms, sparking angst among some groups, though he said he believes America is still far from a scenario that would push civilians to rebel against their government.

“What I can see across the country — there is going to come a point where people, both Democrat and Republican, are going to quit putting up with the things that are taking place,” said Whittington, a Republican.

Still, Whittington, a devout Christian and a firearm owner, said he wouldn’t be one to fight in a revolution.

“Because of my worldview, and because of my belief in God, I don’t know that I would ever use a weapon against a government or anybody else,” he said.

Matthew Wood, 37, a call center operator in Nampa, Idaho, said he has gotten more involved in local politics since the start of the pandemic, demanding fewer restrictions. If officials won’t listen to people like him, he said, violence would be acceptable as a last resort. “If governments aren’t willing to work and make changes, then so be it,” said Wood, a Republican.

Tomasz Antoszczak, a 39-year-old Democrat from New Jersey, said he did not believe justified violence could happen any time soon, stressing that such action would be “a very last resort.” But he said that the last administration’s attempts to overturn the results of the election could have gone differently, potentially tipping the scales.

“With last year’s insurrection, if things had gone in a different direction for some reason, and if the folks who stormed the Capitol were successful, and if the election was overturned and the results were overturned, and if Trump would have stayed in power,” Antoszczak said. “That’s just a lot of ifs.”

Antoszczak expressed concern about the lawmakers he said “caved in” to the demands of the last administration.

“The last couple of years definitely opened my eyes a little bit more as to how fragile our government can be,” he said.

James Lee, a Democrat in Florida, argued that American democracy was built on negotiation based on conflict, meaning that it took the Revolutionary War to achieve the political system the country has now.

“Whenever you lose that negotiation factor or the democracy itself, then, yeah, violence is going to have to be used in order to reestablish the democracy that we have,” he said.

Still, Lee said he wouldn’t be one to fight a despotic government.

“If I have to resort to firearms, in my opinion, I’ve already lost the battle,” he said.


The alpacas of Crescendo Acres Farm eat the needles and chew on the branches of a donated Christmas tree on Wednesday. The Surry farm has been accepting Christmas tree donations for their alpacas, and mini horses who eat the bark, for five to six years and has received four trees so far this year. Owners Russ and Diana Fiorey, who also sell Christmas trees on their farm, started accepting donations and giving their animals the extra trees from the farm after reading an article about recycling and sustainability and learning their alpacas prefer trees to grass. The farm prefers Christmas trees that are donated early in the season, since the alpacas prefer the moisture of the greenery to the drier trees they may receive in March with fewer needles.


The alpacas of Crescendo Acres Farm eat the needles and chew on the branches of a donated Christmas tree on Wednesday. The Surry farm has been accepting Christmas tree donations for their alpacas, and mini horses who eat the bark, for five to six years and has received four trees so far this year. Owners Russ and Diana Fiorey, who also sell Christmas trees on their farm, started accepting donations and giving their animals the extra trees from the farm after reading an article about recycling and sustainability and learning their alpacas prefer trees to grass. The farm prefers Christmas trees that are donated early in the season, since the alpacas prefer the moisture of the greenery to the drier trees they may receive in March with fewer needles.



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