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Posted February 16, 2007

Burlington, what a place to live

A really nice thing to see shortly after 8 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning in Battery Park was a city employee hard at work with a special machine to make ready the small ice skating rink near the police station so kids and others could enjoy Sunday winter wonderland recreation. It is that kind of attention to detail that makes this city a great place to live.

Dennis McMahon
Burlington

Can we wait any longer?

It is heartwarming for me to enter this 98th year of living on Earth knowing that most of the choices I made for how to live and what to work for were the “right” causes.

Because I understood as a child some connection to Earth, I had a vision of the role my country and I could play in creating the paradise this planet could become. I’ve spent my life making unpopular choices. I’ve supported all kinds of initiatives which would have given all life a better world but were never given a chance — solar power, a single payer health care system, no nuclear technology, several types of non-polluting transportation, preserving the family farm in the late 1940s, and other attempts to keep business small and life simple.

I was always politically active because I have been given a vision of our country’s potential. We were working to become a democracy — governing of the people, by the people, and for the people. With our example, other countries would be able to envision such a future. There were always groups with this vision to support.

As Earth consciousness surfaced in the 20th century, there were more and more “positive futures” groups — some started, got discouraged, and gave up; others continued to enlighten and change thinking. Now many understand an Earth-human connection; what we do to Earth, we do to ourselves; we are the global brain. We have proof of this connection with what we have done to our bioregions and ecosystems. A global warming.

We could witness the great awakening. A group of humans from all over the planet have been able to formulate “The Earth Charter: Values and principles for a sustainable future.” We need to ratify this and use it. In 2003, millions of humans rejected war as a way of solving human problems. We are one human family that shouldn’t fight.

I’ve been waiting a long time. I like to think I may live to see it happen.

Marion Leonard
Rochester

Communities need more protection

Over the past couple of years, St. Albans Town, St. Albans City, and the surrounding communities have struggled with how to fairly and accurately evaluate the potential impacts of big box development on local economies and infrastructure. Because oversized, out-of-place development can harm communities, local officials need as much accurate, objective information as possible to make the most informed decisions on whether, where, and under what terms to permit large-scale retail stores.

St. Albans’ story — whereby the Act 250 District Commission sent Wal-Mart’s economic consultant back to the drawing board because of “flaws” and “omissions” in its economic analysis — provides the most striking example of why the Legislature should pass the Community Impact Study Bill.

The bill, now under consideration by the Senate Economic Development Housing and General Affairs Committee, would:

• Ensure that a community and regional impact study is undertaken which analyzes the proposed costs and benefits associated with any large-scale retail project, upon which the host community, neighboring towns, district environmental commissions, and other interested parties can make the most informed decisions; and,

• Allow the community to choose an unbiased, independent consultant to conduct the study, but require the developer to fund it.

A solid foundation of unbiased and fully-informed planning is essential to the viability of our communities in the 21st century. This bill will help avoid the costly, timely, and cumbersome process that St. Albans went through. It will give communities a tool — not just the developers — to ask for a full picture of the potential impacts’ best-case scenario. Since that level of understanding is vital to ensuring the long-term health and prosperity of Vermont communities, I hope the Legislature passes this important bill.

Sue Prent
St. Albans

Stopping the race to the bottom

Most working people in Vermont are faced with economic insecurity on a daily basis. Fewer and fewer workers enjoy health care coverage, real retirement security, or even a livable wage. Too many workers are forced to work two to three jobs, taking a toll on families and communities. And we are seemingly always caught between the rock of rising regressive taxes (such as the property tax, sales tax, and user fees) and the hard place of cutting public education and public services — illustrated no more clearly than in our Vermont town meeting debates over school budgets every year.

Some people, especially the few who are benefiting from the situation, would like us to believe that economic insecurity for the many is simply a byproduct of uncontrollable forces of the economy, and that there is no other option to the status quo. However, the reality is that economic insecurity is a result of specific policies promoted by large corporations, the wealthy, and their far-right allies. Federal trade policy has promoted outsourcing, off-shoring, and plant closings that have devastated many communities. Health insurance and pharmaceutical companies have poured millions of dollars into defeating any kind of health care reform. Billions of dollars have been wasted on an unnecessary and unjust war in Iraq. These policies add up to a “race to the bottom” for workers, and a race to the bottom is one that no one wins.

Throughout history, whenever economic elites have defended the status quo with the argument that there is no other option, working people have stood up for an alternative vision, a vision of an economy that works for everyone.

We can see that happening locally with the Verizon workers who are standing up to stop a sale that could not only destroy good jobs but frustrate Vermont’s aspirations for quality broadband, in the fight that Specialty Filaments workers made for a just severance when their factory closed, in the struggles of nurses at Fletcher Allen for quality care and COTS workers for a voice at work, and of school support staff for livable wages.

On Monday, Feb. 19, the Vermont Workers’ Center, the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign, and dozens of other local sponsoring organizations will hold a Workers’ Rights Board Hearing where elected officials, faith leaders, and community leaders will hear testimony from workers, and engage in a critical community discussion regarding poverty wages, livable wages, and the future of jobs in our community. It is only by linking our struggles together to create a common vision of economic and social justice, and a movement based on that vision, that we will be able, as a community and a nation, to stop the race to the bottom.

Jonathan Kissam
Burlington

Jonathan Kissam is secretary-treasurer of UE Local 221. The Workers’ Rights Board Hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. at Contois Auditorium at Burlington’s City Hall. For more information, contact: James Haslam, Vermont Workers’ Center, at 272-0882 or james@workerscenter.org, or Emma Mulvaney Stanak, Vermont Livable Wage Campaign, at 863-2345 ext. 8 or livablewage@pjcvt.org.

For some, it may not be a choice

When, years ago, I first heard of the Hemlock Society, the idea that a person wishing to end his or her life could be helped by friends or family struck me as a courageous, radical idea.

Ignorant about the subtleties of such a proposal and eager to rebel against any organization’s prohibitions of suicide, I sympathized with the Hemlock Society’s goals as humanitarian. It was a case of honoring individual rights.

Now, however, the debate on personal choice is being used to create public policy that puts too much of the power of this final solution into the hands of physicians and insurance companies. This is a very different and troubling matter.

I have a disability, blindness, once a largely accepted reason for suicide. I came to my experience with disability after a background of educational privilege and economic and personal opportunities. I have had access to resources and support. Society does not consider me a burden and my own conviction that I am not a burden to society or friends and family makes my case very different from many others. Many individuals with significant disabilities are viewed by doctors and others as having a life not worth living and are not getting needed services. I am troubled as well by what this proposal means for those who are poor and uninsured.

There are many reasons to be concerned. It is dangerous to legalize physician-assisted suicide when health care is severely rationed. People living with disabilities or in poverty are often discriminated against and disparaged. The bill gives doctors a role many are not prepared for and others do not want. Some physicians provide sensitive, compassionate, and effective end of life care. Some — but not all. Given the well-documented inability of many physicians to deal with death humanely, I for one would not want a physician to judge or be the arbitrator of the righteousness of my demise. Protecting doctors and hospitals from liability — as the bill now being considered does — represents a dangerous trend in public policy.

I said that I came to this issue from a life that included privilege; I also carry another history.
I left Europe at a time when doctors put individuals with disabilities, Jews, and political dissidents to death. The eugenics movement of the 1930s and 40s, a philosophy formulated in this country (specifically in Vermont) and in Germany, used forced sterilization to eliminate “less worthy” or “less successful” humans. Fear and the desire for control led to bad public policy. I don’t want to see that happen again.

The desire not to be a burden or the fear of dealing with disability or death can make a lethal prescription seem like the only choice. Lack of access to effective and legal pain management and respectful end of life care also has the potential to promote a desire for death; even when death is not certain.

This bill does not promote improved access to and funding for effective pain management services, hospice supports, and responsive end-of-life care. It only protects the doctor’s role in ending life.
A more rational approach — such as universal health care — would make sure that palliative care, hospice, and skilled pain management are available. Given the recent advances in palliative care and hospice, very few individuals need to have untreatable pain.

The benefits of this bill for the small number of individuals whose pain cannot be successfully treated by current advances in pain management do not outweigh the potential risks to many other individuals whose lives and legal protections would be put at risk if the proposed “Patient Choice at End of Life” bill were passed. Real choice requires much more than this bill offers.

Andrew Potok
Montpelier

Andrew Potok is the author of A Matter of Dignity, Changing the World of the Disabled.