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Primary Tuesday

Please remember to vote in the Progressive Party primary tomorrow, September 9th. The Progressive State Committee is encouraging progressives to write in the following slate: Governor: Anthony Pollina Lt. Governor: Richard Kemp Secretary of State: Marjorie Power Attorney General: Charlotte Dennett Treasurer: Don Schramm Auditor of Accounts: Martha Abbott Please also remember to support Thomas Hermann, whose name will appear on the ballot. Thomas is running for US Representative. For those of you living in Chittenden County, please also write in Tim Ashe for State Senate. Tim is a Progressive City Councilor from Burlington. And for those of you living in Washington County, please write in Dave Van Deusen for High Bailiff. Dave is a constable in his town of Moretown, and has a long history with organized labor. He is an officer in the Washington County Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, is a District Vice President in the Vermont AFL-CIO, sits on the Steering Committee of the Vermont Workers' Center, and is a member of the National Writers Union Local 1981 & the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 1L.

Selling out Seniors

Shame on Jim Douglas and Gaye Symington. In the face of looming state budget problems, do they propose closing the capital gains loophole and asking those who make money from investments to pay the same tax rate as those who work for a living? No. Do they propose to tighten the $160 million that we taxpayers spend on subsidies to the largest and wealthiest corporations in free advertising for the ski areas and tax breaks to the likes of IDX? No. Instead they have taken the bold and courageous step of reducing services to homebound destitute, elderly Vermonters (from 5.5 hours per week to 4.5 hours per week). I guess they figure that homebound destitute elders can’t fight back effectively and may not even vote. The lack of political courage and lack of leadership shown by this choice is astounding! But we should not be surprised. This is the same daring duo that collaborated to solve the health care crisis with the Catamount program, which doesn’t reduce anyone’s premiums by $1 and gives more taxpayer money to private insurance companies And the same collaboration that brought us that brilliant solution to the property tax crisis: Forcing taxpayers to vote twice on school budgets and crippling the effectiveness of local school boards. Vermonters have an opportunity to elect a new kind of leader. Anthony Pollina will appoint business and academic leaders, not partisan politicians, to his administration to offer real solutions, not electioneering strategies to solve Vermont’s fiscal problems.

Palin v Roe v Wade

With John McCain's choice for a VP in the front page of our news, I can't help but focus on Sarah Palin's anti-choice stance. Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed a woman’s right to privacy in reproductive decisions, sparked spirited and heated debate and controversy that the ensuing years have done little to quell. Indeed, the recent rise of the religious right and the presence in the White House of a man whose professed love of freedom involves stripping people of their rights, have raised hopes and fears that this decision could be overturned. For me and most of the women I know, it is the fear that predominates. Deciding whether or not to have a child is the most momentous decision most of us face in our lifetimes. Raising a child is a big, important and often difficult job that is best done in a supportive environment. I find it highly ironic, therefore, that many of the same people who wish to uphold, sometimes violently, the right of a fetus to be born do not think twice about removing safety nets for families or individuals facing reproductive decisions. In the words of satirical songwriters Ekstrom and Quinn “You’re on your own, you’re on your own. We’ll stand with you ‘til you’re born; after that you’ll stand alone. ‘Till you join this world of strife, kid, you got a right to life, but after that, well, we’re afraid you’re on your own.” In an ideal world, where women were never raped or abused, where poverty was eliminated, where everyone had access to excellent education, health care and child care, where every woman could face reproductive decisions knowing that she would have the support she needed to raise the child(ren) she bore, the need to resort to abortion would be drastically reduced. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. We live in a world, and, more specifically, in a country, where a large segment of the population has limited or no access to a good education, health care or child care, where incest, rape, domestic violence, substance addiction and prostitution trap many women in such desperate situations that abortion may seem to be the only viable option. People on every side of this issue, of course, have a right to air their opinions in a peaceful manner. None of us has a corner on the truth and public debate on important issues is a healthy sign of a free society. But if a fraction of the energy used to support or oppose legal abortions were used to fight some of these social ills, imagine the lives that would be saved and the progress that could be made. What, exactly, would be accomplished by making abortion illegal? Were Roe v Wade overturned tomorrow, make no mistake, abortions would still be done; safe ones would just become harder to obtain. And who would bear the brunt of this increased difficulty? As always, the poorest, most disadvantaged and vulnerable among us would be hardest hit. Just as in the years prior to Roe v Wade, the wealthy and the middle class could afford to raise unplanned children or travel to a place where abortion was safe and legal. The poor would fall deeper into poverty, attempting to raise additional children with non-existent resources, or would resort to the back-alley butcher shops that existed before Roe v Wade and surely would spring up again if women lost safer options. I’m old enough to remember the days before the Roe v Wade decision and I don’t want those days to return. I believe that life is hard enough for some women and some families without the added burden that criminalizing abortion would impose. If we, the people, our government, our non-profit organizations and our churches would join together to make life more livable and bearable for our neighbors on this planet, we would be doing the best job possible of eliminating the need for abortions. The great community organizer Saul Alinsky once said, “The real question facing the church of today is not whether there is life after death, but whether there is life after birth.” My idea of heaven on earth would be all of us working together to make a healthier, happier “life after birth” a reality for all of our children.

Rental Housing Health and Safety Enforcement

The issue of rental housing health and safety is one I've addressed before on this blog and something that should continue to be of concern. Vermont has approximately 75,000 rental units and over 140,000 tenants state-wide. State law requires that each of these rental units meet minimum health and safety standards, to be maintained by landlords. However, it is a well-known fact that these laws have not been adequately enforced by state government, which has typically relied on voluntary compliance by landlords to ensure that units meet the standards. Making the issue more difficult, last year the Vermont Health Department eliminated its support and training r ole for the state’s all volunteer Town Health Officer Program. For most of Vermont’s 245 cities and towns, Town Health Officers are the public officials charged with enforcing the state’s Rental Housing Health and Safety Code. In Burlington, the City has a Code Enforcement department which annually inspects apartments for compliance with health and safety requirements – this work is funded by a $75 yearly fee ($50 for an owner-occupied duplex) paid by landlords for each of their units. A few other cities and towns in Vermont, like Burlington, have enacted their own housing code and enforcement mechanisms. Most Vermont communities, and tenants in those communities, have only the protection of state law, which is virtually meaningless given the level of state enforcement. A recent decision in a code enforcement case brought by Vermont Legal Aid confirmed this problem – the case was a class action filed in Franklin Superior Court on behalf of Vermont renters and tenants. Superior Court Ben Joseph granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs, writing that "it is obvious that landlords in Vermont know that no direct punishment will be imposed for housing code violations in rental properties," and ordering the Vermont Department of Public Safety to come up with a plan to enforce the State’s building codes. In the meantime, a Rental Housing Safety and Habitability Study Committee commissioned by the Legislature last session will be meeting this fall to discuss code enforcement issues. At times over the past 10 years, Vermont has ranked first in the nation in the housing death rate by fire. Tenants continue to be vulnerable to substandard housing and unsafe conditions, with only the good graces of their landlord as protection. While many landlords do maintain good and safe housing, many do not. Now more than ever is the time for action by the State on rental housing health and safety enforcement – it’s the minimum we should be doing to protect tenants.

Backseating Policy

Has the time slipped away, even in our "small neigborhood" of Vermont, for discussion and subsequent meaningful action on issues to inevitably take a backseat to fundraising and spin? The multi-year corporate-fueled campaign for our land's highest office has turned many progressives off...even to the often inspirational rhetoric of Obama, now in a position to become the most highly financed President in US history. Is this alienating political phenomenon now the fate of VT? Recent reports about the legal interpretation of VT's "mystery" retroactive finance law and comparatively low fundraising by both Anthony and Gaye have dominated the press, effectively "backseating" informed discussion of pressing statewide concerns like energy policy, transportation infrastructure, housing costs and healthcare. Are we to assume that most voters in Nov. vote for the candidate who wedged the lion's share of TV, radio and print ads onto the airwaves? Have we become inured to grassroots, door knocking political debate with real people talking to their neighbors and their home communities? I hope not.

The Fourth Estate Asleep at the Wheel

Buried on page 5B of today's Free Press was the following story:
Human error faulted in spike at Vt. Yankee Human error is being blamed for a radiation spike at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant that prompted the evacuation yesterday of about a dozen workers from the main reactor building. Plant spokesman Robert Williams says a worker did an incomplete job clearing water off of a demineralization filter during routine monthly maintenance. A short time later, control room operators spotted the doubling of radiation levels in a main steam line. Williams says there were no radioactive releases to the environment, and that the plant's operations and power level were not affected. Tuesday's incident remains under investigation.
What has to go wrong for Yankee news to hit the front page? And people wonder why some of us believe the media is little more than a tool for the larger corporate agenda.
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