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Peace on Earth and goodwill to men seem to be in painfully short supply right now, with anxieties about COVID-19 still pervasive, rising prices draining pocketbooks, American democracy under attack and plentiful uncertainty about the future. If there is a glimmer of hope to this year’s Christmas celebrations, it’s that we can now be more comfortable celebrating it with family and friends thanks to widely available vaccines that can curb serious illness and death. Other treatments being developed could help get us closer to the COVID-free lives we led two Christmases ago. Also, the United States and the world have confronted challenges even more daunting in the past and have prevailed. Along with peace and goodwill, we all could probably use doses of optimism and courage this season.

The Pittsburgh area has an international airport, but direct, international flights from the Moon Township facility have lately been few and far between. That’s why the recent announcement that British Airways would be resuming year-round, nonstop service between Pittsburgh and London next year is such a big deal. It was discontinued more than two decades ago, and a US Airways direct flight between the two cities ended in 2004. British Airways came back into the market in 2019, then halted flights again in 2020 due to the pandemic. Flights will start in June and will be offered four days a week. It is forecast to be an economic boon, delivering an estimated $50 million per year to the regional economy. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said, “The business and leisure connections between Pittsburgh and the U.K. are numerous, and this flight will be an economic driver for both markets.”

Americans have become accustomed to life expectancy increasing year after year, but new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Wednesday show that life expectancy took the steepest drop in 2020 than at any time since World War II. The coronavirus was one of the reasons life expectancy was lowered by 1.8 years to 77 years. Heart disease and cancer were the two biggest killers last year, with COVID-19 ranking third. Accidental deaths, including drug overdoses and homicides, also played roles in curtailing life expectancy. Once COVID-19 is contained, the United States clearly has other threats to public health it has to turn its attention to.

Teachers, social workers, nurses, and other workers who fulfill critical roles in our economy have been eligible for some types of student loan forgiveness, but Pennsylvania has been treating debt relief as income and taxing it accordingly. This meant that someone who had $50,000 in debt forgiven would have been hit with a $1,535 tax bill from the state Department of Revenue. However, the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf announced last week that the forgiven debt would no longer be considered taxable income. The governor explained, “These people have chosen to serve the public, and often in lower-paying fields, because they want to make a difference. They don’t have thousands of dollars lying around to pay a one-time tax bill. So it’s wrong to take what should be a blessing and turn it into just another burden.”

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