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The “f” word

Posted January 12, 2007

We all know Gov. Jim Douglas is a polite guy, someone who is mild-mannered, and cautious.

And, as such, how could we be upset with him for not blurting out the “f” word during his inaugural address? Well, because it’s not that “f” word.

Out of more than 4,050 words, Gov. Douglas, the leader of one of the top dairy states in the region, and a state upon whose shoulders rests generations of agricultural pride, mentioned the word “farmer” twice (for the story, visit www.vermontguardian.com).

But, he never mentioned farming, or agriculture, as anything more than iconic or bucolic — a good image, but nothing of substance.

Here are the two mentions. The first was touting how the Vermont Way Forward, his four-point plan for a prosperous Vermont, would help farmers. The second was the tried and true image of the hardscrabble farmer. The kind of person, ironically, that Gov. Douglas’ e-state program could very well leave behind.

First mention: “[I]t strengthens Vermont’s agrarian roots with technology that allows farmers to grow locally but compete globally.”

Second mention: “I have shaken the hard-calloused hand of a hill farmer and in his leather-faced smile seen the hope of spring.”

It’s interesting how Douglas says his “Vermont Way Forward” strengthens Vermont’s agrarian roots. Yet, expanding broadband and cellular coverage, or luring more environmental engineers (not known for their prowess in the milking parlor), or providing more students with access to math, science, and technology-based curricula is not going to help keep struggling family farms in business.

In other words, Vermont’s farmers will have to simply adapt or die while Vermont plows $40 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds to build a technological infrastructure that multi-billion dollar phone and cable companies are too cheap to do on their own, or simply don’t see the profit in it. Instead, we taxpayers will foot the bill so they can sell us service.

There’s something wrong in this equation.

Gov. Douglas’ e-state concept should be applauded for its vision, and its promise. There is no question that today’s economy is fast and furious, and people can set up virtual offices anywhere they can get a good connection.

Vermont’s entrepreneurs need to be able to set up shop wherever their ideas take root, not be marshaled into one small corner, or county, of the state where access to the Internet is the fastest, and cellular coverage is the most rampant.

However, Vermont should not ignore the infrastructure needs of the agricultural economy. Farmers are the ones who put food on the table, and keep the landscape open, working, and productive.

Vermont’s farmers need help with slaughterhouses, in-state processing facilities, and the ability to process and sell some of their products directly from the farm.

In the governor’s vision to curb global greenhouse gas emissions, we must remember that a healthy local food economy allows people to buy food locally rather than have meat, milk, vegetables trucked in from across the country or the world. Think of the fuel, and emissions, we’d save by buying food grown and produced for market right here.

As we shape the future of Vermont through the governor’s e-state proposal, let’s be sure to keep a few seats at the table for the people who have brought Vermont to where it is today.

They call it justice

The hanging of former Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein has set off an international controversy (see story, page 13), but it raises other, important questions for the United States.

Namely, is this the kind of democracy and justice system most of us would imagine for a country we aimed to set up in our image?

When the country was sold in this war, it was to reshape a dictatorship into a shining example of democracy in the Middle East.

To be sure, Hussein was a brutal dictator, but his hanging does not serve well all the other thousands of people, mainly Kurds in the northern part of the country, who suffered greatly under his rein (and largely with weapons funneled to him by the United States). Those victims will not see justice served now, thanks to his hastily staged execution.

And, neither is democracy served when we turn away one brutal cheek to kiss another.