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Archive - Sep 2008

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September 11th

A short-term bump versus more substantial worries

The short-term politics of picking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as vice-president on the Republican ticket are more astute than many Democrats are acknowledging. The pick has, in a moment’s notice, galvanized the religious right, brought abortion back into the spotlight, and re-energized John McCain’s candidacy for president as a maverick.

But the longer-term impact of the choice will likely undermine the confidence the American public will have in McCain’s decision-making.

If Palin’s choice as his running mate is indicative of his recklessness and willingness to gamble the nation’s security for a bump in the polls, then the American public must face the possibility that we would have another president in the White House who would rule by gut instinct, hasty and uninformed decisions, and a reluctance to fully vet an issue before making important decisions.

In choosing Palin, McCain had his first face-to-face conversation with her the day before his announcement; a time that his staff was still researching information about her past and her qualifications. On the day before making her selection public, the McCain staff found out about her 17-year-old daughter being five months pregnant — not an issue in itself, but the fact that it was unknown until the day before more than suggests that the vetting process was rushed and uninformed at the very least. Yet, McCain maintains — as Bush so often did — that the facts are not as they seem; that the contradictory evidence is just the other side making a big deal out of nothing. (It also points out the weakness of those who, like Palin, support abstinence over birth control.)

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Bubba-hood vs. intellectualism

Two undercurrents of the Republican Convention jumped from the stage so blatantly they became the white elephant in the room: the irony that the Republicans were running as a party of change, and the championing of bubba-hood over intelligence as qualifications to lead this nation.

Sen. John McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and the subsequent convention rhetoric used to promote her nomination and lash out at the Democrats with partisan rancor, showed just how far the G.O.P. has sunk in its election strategy.

In a country that used to seek “the best and the brightest” to lead our nation, Republicans recently have chosen candidates who have ranked at the bottom of their classes academically (Bush and McCain) and rely frequently on personal beliefs, rather than accepted facts or critical review of performance, to make decisions that are crucial for the nation’s future.

Bush’s appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as head of the Defense Department and his willingness to keep him in place in the face of abysmal failure and a ruinous foreign policy for the first five years of his presidency, for example, were disastrous. Similarly, his decision to ignore the evidence that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and instead invade Iraq, while taking the focus off of capturing Osama bin Laden and defeating the Taliban, has been costly and counterproductive.

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Choosing the winning storyline

If Americans believe that “we are a better country” than what we have seen for the past eight years, as Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech Thursday night, then that sense of hope will help propel him into the White House.

In what was an inspiring speech, Obama’s soaring rhetorical style encouraged Americans to dream again of a country that leads the world, not by military might, but by the force of its optimism and a promise of opportunity available to all:

“It’s a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect,” Obama said. “It’s a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

“Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves — protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology. Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who’s willing to work.

“That’s the promise of America - the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.

“That’s the promise we need to keep. That’s the change we need right now.”

But Obama’s speech wasn’t just about hope. He also asked the American people to look critically at the failure of the Bush administration over this past eight years, and not excuse that performance.

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Lunch tab goes up at area schools


ADDISON COUNTY — The latest place to be hard hit by rising food and fuel prices?

The school cafeteria. 

As costs are driven up by shrinking student populations and hefty fuel surcharges on food deliveries, many county schools are facing increasingly large deficits in their hot lunch programs — prompting several to hike prices this year from seven to 15 percent.

For the parents of the roughly 51 percent of all schoolchildren who eat hot lunch on any given day, those increased prices add up.

“The (school) boards have been briefed that this is seriously a belt-tightening year,” said Greg Burdick, the business manager for the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union (ANeSU). Five of the district’s six schools saw lunch price increases this year. “The boards all know that it’s going to be a tough year for hot lunch and a tough year for our budget.”

Burdick said that he didn’t know if price increases were any steeper this year than they’d been in the past — but he did say that increases weren’t as “spotty” as they had been in previous years, when they typically occurred at just one or two schools a year.

But even increased prices cannot fully “true” the mounting hot lunch program deficits facing some local schools — deficits that could creep as high as an estimated $70,000 at Bristol’s Mount Abraham Union High School. Mount Abe raised school lunch prices 40 cents to $3.

Outside of the ANeSU, other schools in the county have seen prices rise this year as well.

At Middlebury Union High School, lunch prices are up a quarter to $2.25 per meal. Vergennes Union High School saw prices increase from $1.75 to $2.


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Shard Villa gets reprieve from closing


SALISBURY — Shard Villa trustees will not proceed with their previously stated direction of closing the elder care facility this fall. They will instead explore fund raising and other avenues through which they hope to keep the stately, 19th-century mansion in the senior care business for years to come.

In July trustees announced that Shard Villa — a historic landmark and one of the state’s oldest senior care facilities — would likely close its doors on Nov. 1. Trustees explained that soaring heating fuel costs and mounting upkeep expenses were making it very difficult for Shard Villa to remain solvent. The 130-year-old mansion in West Salisbury serves around a dozen elderly residents, many of them in their 90s.

But trustees, at a Sept. 7 meeting with staff and client families, confirmed they are now shifting their focus to keeping Shard Villa’s senior care facility open.

“The Trustees of Shard Villa in West Salisbury announced to staff and families this week that the villa will not be closing on Nov. 1,” reads a statement released to the Addison Independent on Monday by Shard Villa Board of Trustees Chairwoman Diane Benware. “The trustees are seeking alternatives that may be available and several board members are part of a task force being convened by the Preservation Trust of Vermont. The task force will conduct a feasibility study to explore what options may be available that will allow trustees to further the mission of the trust. A capital needs assessment is under way, and an energy audit of the structure will be handled by Efficiency Vermont.”

Benware added the task force will make its recommendations to the full board by the end of the year. In addition, a small working group of board members and family members will be focusing on fund-raising efforts. 

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Closed bridge halts school bus services in East Middlebury


EAST MIDDLEBURY — Mary Hogan Elementary School board directors are exploring ways of restoring bus service to many East Middlebury families who have had to find new ways to get their children to school since flood waters ravaged the Lower Plains Road Bridge on Aug. 6.

And the current lack of school busing isn’t the only issue pressing on the minds of the approximately 60 affected households on Lower Plains Road, Blueberry Lane, Daisy Lane and Pratt Road. Those residents — who must currently detour several miles to Route 7 via Plains Road (also known as Beaver Pond Road) in Salisbury — are also concerned about how their neighborhood will be served by emergency vehicles and snow plows.

“The biggest thing is you feel cut off from the town,” resident Michael Pixley said on Tuesday. “It’s amazing to think how that little bridge affects your lifestyle.”

Around a dozen affected residents brought their concerns to the ID-4 school board Monday evening. They emphasized the strain the added chauffeuring duties are placing on their personal and professional lives. Some families have had to dramatically reshuffle their schedules.

Jenny Quesnel and her husband, Tawnya, have one child each at the Mary Hogan school, Middlebury Union Middle School and Middlebury Union High School. Quesnel had hoped to re-enter the workforce full-time this month, but has been unable to do so because of her rigorous morning and afternoon drop-off and pick-up duties at all three schools.

“It feels like you’re making a constant circle,” said Quesnel, who placed her weekly fuel bill at around $200.

Quesnel said Lower Plains Road parents were originally told they’d have to supply their own transportation for the first week of school.

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September 8th

Whack! Busy mosquito season is winding down


ADDISON COUNTY — Mosquito control officials in the state’s three insect control districts — all located in Addison County and Brandon — are getting ready to close the books on what they say was one of the buggiest summers in recent history.

Seemingly incessant rainfall throughout July and early August caused frequent flooding of area wetlands, as well as spillovers of the Otter Creek and its tributaries. The resulting water pooling created ideal conditions for mosquitoes to spawn, hatch and wreak havoc throughout the county.

“Statewide, we’ve been getting a lot of reports and calls of elevated levels of mosquitoes in areas that have never called before,” state Entomologist Jon Turmel said on Thursday. “It’s been because of the amount of rain we’ve had.

“The rain hasn’t been absorbed (into the ground) and there are all these puddles. We just can’t find them all.”

It hasn’t been for a lack of trying.

The Lemon Fair Insect Control District’s airplane conducted more than 40 larvicide dropping sorties throughout the three insect control districts, encompassing Bridport, Cornwall, Weybridge, Brandon, Leicester, Goshen and Salisbury. In all, the plane dumped larvicide — which kills mosquito larvae in their early stages of growth — on a whopping 7,288 acres this summer. By contrast, the Lemon Fair district’s plane dropped larvicide on only 608 acres last year during what was a comparatively dry summer. All of the larvicide drops last year were confined to the Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury, Goshen (BLSG) Mosquito Control District.

“We handle an area that is very large, and it got even larger,” Lemon Fair district Manager Tom Baskett said of the impact of the rainy conditions. “It shifted from day to day.”

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Hill throws hat in the ring in House race


BENSON — Nov. 4 could be called “independents day” in Addison-Rutland 1, the Vermont House District that includes Shoreham, Orwell, Benson and Whiting.

That’s because two independent candidates — and nary a Democrat or Republican — are vying for the right to represent the district for the next two years.

Benson Town Moderator John Hill confirmed on Thursday that he will run as an independent challenger to freshman incumbent Rep. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham.

Hill, 56, is an accounts auditor with the firm NEIS Inc. He inspects payroll and sales records for the insurance industry, performing 95 percent of his duties in Vermont.

A Sunderland, Vt., native, Hill and his family have lived in Benson for the past six years. He recently served his community on the Benson school board and is now enjoying his role as town moderator.

“I like fairness and I believe when you give people enough information, they’ll make good decisions,” Hill said.

He believes that same philosophy holds true for a state representative, a role in which he sees himself gathering information on issues to share with his constituents for feedback.

“I’m the people’s advocate to get information out,” said Hill, who is no stranger to political contests. Thirty years ago, he ran as a Democrat in a four-way contest for one of Bennington County’s two seats in the Vermont Senate. Hill recalls finishing a “respectable fourth,” but hadn’t launched another bid for the Statehouse until this year.

He stressed he is not running simply to unseat Stevens.

“My decision is based exclusively on a desire to give back to the community and help the district and state become better,” Hill said.

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