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Mobile Meat Processing

Not to put down the mobile freezing unit which I think it is a good thing, but two years ago, in the Agriculture Committee we discussed this and voted to fund the mobile poultry processing unit over the mobile freezing unit. Why?  For one, there is a shortage of slaughtering options for poultry producers and the demand for local poultry is huge.  Second, there are far more poultry producers than medium or large scale berry producers.   Don't get me wrong.  I am sure that the freezing unit will bear fruit. (ha ha)  And there will be producers who use it and benefit by it.  But, at the same time, in February of 2007 the Agriculture Agency informed the committee that they thought we would have the mobile poultry unit on line for the fall turkeys.  Turns out, it was not even ordered by then. I appreciate the efforts of the Agency of Agriculture for working towards many areas of support for producers of foods that are consumed locally and for working to expand the season for which we can get them.  But considering the slaughterhouse problems and the numbers of producers, they need to keep focused on the items that would be used more fully and more quickly. I have been told the poultry processing unit has finally been ordered.  I hope that we see a story soon about the mobile processing unit coming on line, and with an operator.  But I won't count my chickens...

Keep on flippin'

Did anyone watch the Forum on Faith with mega-pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback church?  I happened onto it while flipping channels.  The question for McCain at that moment was on tax policy and the definition of the word "wealthy".  Religious folk across the country had just let out of church and were waiting anxiously for the candidates' replies so that they could continue their journey in faith knowing the answer to that question which obviously came from directly from the good book.  Sorry, I can't share their answers because Olympic badminton was on and I'm a fan.

Equal Time

Podcast of Equal Time Radio interview with Ed Stanak, past president of VSEA ( 2001-2007), and current president of the VSEA bargaining unit that represents over 4,000 state employees - highway workers, health department nurses, environmental protection workers and more.  Ed hits the policies that are resulting in layoffs, cuts in essential social services, and deepening Vermont's recession. Joined by Anthony Pollina, arguing for alternative policies to create jobs and pull us out of the downward spiral caused by "conservative" hostility to government that serves working families.  Podcast at: http://equaltimeradio.com/?q=node/37

Looking Toward Winter Heating Costs

Summer is beginning to wind down in Vermont. Looking forward it's impossible not to think about the looming problem of utility costs, particularly heating costs for low and moderate income Vermonters during winter months. In Burlington we asked our City Assessor to calculate the number of homes heated with oil, which along with propane has seen the most dramatic increase in cost. The City’s records show that just over 1000 households out of approximately 15,000 heat with oil. Most communities in Vermont likely have the opposite situation, with a majority of homes depending on oil or propane. While there have been severe fluctuations in the price of oil, and recently a downturn, Vermonters this winter will still see significantly higher costs to heat their homes. Many issues and potential solutions – both short-term and long-term – are out there. LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) is one area where the federal government must step up with additional funding. Vermont’s Congressional delegation is fighting hard for an increase in funding for LIHEAP. State government has a long-stated commitment that no Vermonter will go cold and the State has an obligation to provide backup resources and planning to LIHEAP (Anthony Pollina has proposed that the state use rainy day funds for emergency fuel assistance, as well as to provide lines of credit to local fuel dealers for up front fuel purchases). Locally, we should encourage personal and private support of fuel fund efforts like Project Warmth and ShareHeat which do their best to fill gaps. Vermont Gas offers conversions to natural gas for homes heated with oil, an option in particular for Burlington where natural gas lines are widely available. Nonetheless, in Burlington and elsewhere we should prepare for the likely increase in people heating their homes with space heaters or ovens, and resulting private and public safety issues related to fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. Some people have suggested an investment in wood pellet stoves as a more sustainable option and this should be explored. Clearly, we have yet to exhaust the potential for increased efficiency and conservation (the Burlington Electric Department has an extensive array of energy efficiency programs). Along with developing alternative sources of energy, these are longer-term issues that we need to focus on for the future. But there’s no question we need increased financial support at the state and federal level for short and long-term solutions to energy issues. And, it’s also constructive and more imperative than ever for people and communities across Vermont to share ideas on how to deal with this problem and find solutions that work.

Drug Policy and Sex Offenders: What is the Connection?

While everyone is looking for ways to put more of our resources as a state into preventing child sexual abuse, this may be a good time to look at how we are spending our criminal justice dollars. Do we want the police chasing the kid with 2 ounces of pot?  Or chasing the guy who molested a child? Why are we spending money on helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to search for marijuana plants in remote parts of Vermont but we can’t fund enough CUSI units around the state to effectively pursue sex offender cases. Why are we ruining the futures of high school and college students who get caught smoking pot and spending a lot of money to prosecute them? Why don’t we spend that money to fund more Parent-Child Centers where trained professionals work with parents who did not have the benefit of a stable loving home themselves, and help them create a stable loving home for their children? Or spend that money on programs that work with children who have been the victims of sexual abuse themselves, giving them the counseling they need to prevent them from growing up to be predators in the future? Windsor County States Attorney Robert Sand makes a very good point when he challenges us to use a harm reduction model.  We need to analyze whether the government’s response to marijuana use might be causing more harm than the use of the drug itself.   We have learned that we can curb the use of very dangerous substances like tobacco and alcohol by education and counseling, both of which are much cheaper than police and court and jail time. It’s time to make some smart choices, not just keep yelling “Hang ‘em higher”.

Unsustainability

I doubt that a large number of folks are aware that in the six years that we have been living under Governor Douglas our total health care bill in the state of Vermont has more than doubled. It went from 2.4 billion in 2002 to 4.8 billion this year With this rate of uncontrolled growth in dollars we will approach or be at 10.4 billion and that will be about half of the total gross output of the state. We cannot nor should we support such out of control health costs. At the center of this astounding rise in costs stands the holy trinity of cost drivers. At the head of the line is the health insurance industry, followed closely by big drug companies and then the so called not-for-profit regional hospitals. Take Bennington hospital , this is neither a large hospital nor a very small hospital operation, however the CEO of that operation last year was paid in excess of half a million dollars. For what, overseeing continued uncontrollable costs? Unless voters demand that our legislature contain these costs very soon no one who works for a living will be able to afford health coverage. Neither the small companies which constitute over 80% of our business nor the other non-profits can go on in the present situation. So why is it so hard to control costs. Just look at who makes donations to political campaigns and who now controls a very large work force in the health care field and you will find the root of the problem of cost containment. In the last session with the invention of Catamount Health, additional and new costs were added to the states cost of health care. In fact the effects of Catamount were exactly the opposite its principal goal, that of containing cost and not adding complexity of the health system.
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