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posted September 22, 2006

Prisons and world opinion

Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote that the world judges how civilized a country is by how it treats its prisoners. The United States is viewed less favorably today than it was a few decades ago. Events at U.S. prisons at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, at Bagram in Afghanistan, and at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq have shown that the Bush administration is willing to use torture, abuse, and other cruel and inhuman practices. This is not the United States that you and I believe in.

The United States and you and I believe in does not torture people; does not kidnap people off the street and ship them to nations known for their brutality; does not hold people at Guantanamo Bay without charges, without trials, without hope, and without end; does not condone prisoner abuse and excuse high-ranking government officials from responsibility for that abuse.

The United States that you and I believe in challenges the actions of governments that engage in abuse, torture, and other cruel and inhuman practices. It doesn’t provide them cover for their brutality.

The United States that you and I believe in demands a change. Let’s make the United States responsible again for this transgression of human rights. Let’s be able to tell our grandchildren that we corrected some of the problems.
Jim Neuhaus

Can’t happen here?

Finally, an article (and I’d say a pretty good one) on the electronic monster that threatens to take control of one of our most basic civil liberties — the right to vote on the old-fashioned printed paper ballot without complication and corruption, and know that every vote is counted accurately and recorded for public record (Sept. 8).

As co-founders of Vermonters for Voting Integrity, Jim Hogue and I thought in ’03 that the issue of protecting the printed paper ballot as the primary source of vote recording in Vermont would be a no-brainer. Well, going through numerous committee hearings in the Vermont Senate and House showed us that there’s a “can’t happen here” outlook in good old La-La Land.

The bill we wrote to restrict computer voting in Vermont was gutted and became S.202, and signed into law by Gov. Jim Douglas in April ’04. You can sail an oil tanker through the loopholes in it.

My compliments to Kathryn Casa for getting this issue out from under the rock. I think all our candidates this year should be put on record (printed paper record) on how they stand on protecting the vote.
Peter Buknatski
Vermonters for Voting Integrity

Wackenhut change

The potential for tragedy following an attack or accident involving nuclear spent fuel pools is great, if not eminent, given the sobering fact that drawings of U.S. nuclear power plants were found in al-Qaeda caves in Afghanistan. Elected leaders and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should do more to ensure us that our sensitive nuclear sites are safe and secure. Without this assurance, it is possible that terrorists need not smuggle nuclear weapons into the United States if they can gain access to an inadequately protected nuclear power plant.

Earlier this month, Entergy, Vermont Yankee’s owners, dropped Wackenhut as its security contractor at the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth, MA, after public and government criticism of Wackenhut’s performance there.

Should Vermonters need even more examples of Wackenhut’s poor performance record at our nation’s nuclear security sites to spur them to do more to hold this foreign-owned company accountable, consider this:

  • Wackenhut is under investigation for government contract fraud worth millions of dollars.
  • Wackenhut was caught cheating on an anti-terrorism drill at a nuclear weapons facility.
  • Wackenhut officers were caught telling new guards where they could sleep while on duty at Three Mile Island.
  • Wackenhut lost the contract to protect U.S. Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Washington, DC, after highly publicized security lapses there.

Stephen Lerner
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
Director, Property Services Division
Washington, DC

Did Douglas OK ads?

Recent political ads on TV on behalf of Gov. Douglas’ reelection are indistinguishable from the bullying tactics of the playground. These brutish attacks on the character of Scudder Parker, Democratic candidate for governor, are a corruption of Vermont’s political process.

If Gov. Douglas is responsible for these scurrilous ads, then we have been thoroughly deceived about his character. If he disavows responsibility for the ads, then we have been thoroughly deceived as to his capabilities to take responsibility and govern.
Terry Doran

Another strike against accountability

Pres. Bush and his administration are on the attack — again — against government accountability and the safety of U.S. residents. This time it is with the nomination of Susan Dudley as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). OIRA may not have much name recognition, but it has enormous power over hard-won regulations designed to protect you on the job, in your homes, and on the roads. It reviews everything from auto safety standards to limits on industrial chemicals and air and water pollutants.

Dudley has made it clear what she’s about. As director of regulatory studies at the industry-funded Mercatus Center, she was a foe of countless environmental, health, and safety rules. She opposed the EPA’s attempts to keep arsenic out of drinking water and lower levels of disease-causing smog; questioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s lifesaving airbag regulations and the Department of Transportation’s hours-of-service rules, which are designed to keep sleep-deprived truck drivers off the roads; and championed energy deregulation, which has led to skyrocketing prices.
Robert Lincoln

Fat cats rollback

It has become clear in the Bernie Sanders-Rich Tarrant race for the U.S. Senate seat that important points separate the two candidates. What Sanders understands, and what he has been offering eloquent resistance to over his years in Congress, is the growing corporate control over our daily lives.

A quick review of the major problems that face us reveals that it is unbridled corporate power that makes things worse and stands in the way of reasonable solutions. In health care, for example, the huge contributions of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries take health care for all off the agenda for the two major parties. Energy efficiency, global warming, and fair tax policies are other areas where corporate interests block needed action.

Sanders understands this and Rich Tarrant doesn’t; putting Sanders in the Senate gives us all a voice to begin rolling back the domination by the fat cats.
Stuart Friedman
East Montpelier

Sanders is not up to the job

Bernie Sanders told Mark Johnson on his talk show on Sept. 6, “We want to do everything to protect us against terrorists that does not undermine the Constitution.” But then Sanders admitted he did not vote to support Pres. Bill Clinton’s intelligence policies that made the CIA’s job easier to ascertain critical information on the activities of terrorists — mainly Osama bin Ladin, who had declared war on the United States in 1996. Clinton’s intelligence policy was not unconstitutional. So how can Sanders make such a claim?

Sanders was also one of the very first to speak out against what he likes to call “Bush’s war” as moronic, as Sanders claims Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with any terrorist organization. Hussein had his personal terrorist network and policies that paid tens of thousands of dollars in bounty to terrorists from any jihadist group that strapped on bomb belts and murdered hundreds of Israeli men, women, and children. Is not Sanders of the Jewish faith? Yet he lives in selective denial that at least with Hussein behind bars the Jewish people of Israel are safer.

What a seeming hypocrite. Sanders needs to come out of his spider hole of denial and at least admit that Pres. George W. Bush correctly ousted Hussein for the sake of Israel.

“What’s happened to Bernie?” as the Rich Tarrant ads go. Nothing. He is what he is and has been for decades. It’s just that Sanders has an opponent not afraid to illuminate his dismal record that he runs and hides from and simply asks us to check his website. He walks off on Stewart Ledbetter, a WPTZ-TV reporter who pressed him to explain exactly what it was about the Amber Alert bill that he failed to vote in favor of it.

This attitude tells much about Sanders’ toughness under pressure, and it underscores that Sanders does not have the “right stuff” to serve Vermonters well in the pressure cooker of the U.S. Senate. He would be out of political sync with Sen. Patrick Leahy, who supported a ban on partial birth abortion; Sanders did not.

The great issues of our day will require solutions from people who accept the great burden and challenges that face all of us. Vermonters need representatives who can defend their positions and stand firm against anyone who challenges them. Sanders’ impulse to “cut and run” from pressure shows he is not up to the challenge.
Robert Skinner
South Hero

Grounds for disbarment

Before retiring, I practiced law here in Vermont for more than three decades. Had any lawyer tried a case in the way Rich Tarrant has run his campaign, he would have been disbarred. Here is some, but not all, of the evidence that would be introduced against him.

Tarrant says Sanders’ votes in 2000 and in 2001 were in support of the marriage penalty. Actually, on each of these occasions (House Bills 6, 4810, and 1836), Sanders voted to reduce taxes for married couples and to provide marriage penalty relief. Worse yet, Tarrant omits Sanders’ further votes in 2002, 2003, and 2004 against the marriage penalty tax.

A partial listing of other evidence in a disbarment proceeding would be Tarrant’s shenanigans in claiming his Florida second home as a primary residence, both to save on taxes and not pay tuition for his son in Florida. And remember The New York Times article raising questions about the pricing of stock in Tarrant’s company just as he was selling it? And his phony “nonpartisan” website? And the use of TV footage in violation of his agreement not to do so? And his false claim that Sanders’ campaign also politicked at a Veteran’s Day parade in violation of a request that politicians stay away? The list could go on and on.
Richard Axelrod

Down and dirty

To the dismay of many Vermonters, this campaign season has outlasted mud season and just gets dirtier. For a candidate to liken himself to a principled person such as George Aiken and then indulge in a campaign style fashioned after the infamous Salem witch hunt is incredulous.

One did not doubt where Aiken stood on issues. He clearly stated his point of view without hesitation or retraction. He had breakfast with Sen. Mike Mansfield, R-MT, because Aiken was a man of integrity who did not twist and turn Mansfield’s voting record on its head to resemble a comic book villain’s agenda.

Bernie Sanders is a man of integrity. No one has fought harder for our communities. He is constantly working for universal access to health care, saving retirement plans, education, veteran’s rights, and the well being of our families.

Sanders is a big friend of labor but he is a giant friend of Vermonters. He humbly serves us all. The message we will send to the nation on Election Day is that Sanders still works for the United States.
Jill Charbonneau
Executive Vice-President
Vermont State Labor Council AFL-CIO

Where’s Vermont’s share?

I am happy that Rich Tarrant is helping the economy by spending so much money. My questions to him are: How much of his spending is being spent in Vermont? Are those TV advertisements filmed and produced in Vermont and helping the Vermont economy? Are those postcards being done by Vermont printers?

It would be a shame if most of that money were being spent outside of Vermont to boost the economy in places like California or Florida.
Alan Taplow

What Vermonters want

The campaigns are heating up as we go into the homestretch, and I for one am sick of slander, lies, and distortions. Rich Tarrant seems to be on an ever-increasing smear, while Bernie Sanders puts his hard-earned campaign dollars into informing us about his record, his priorities, and his vision.

Tarrant is claiming that Sanders does not support ending the marriage tax penalty when the truth is that Sanders has always supported giving tax relief to married couples — and Sanders has been consistent, year after year, in supporting tax breaks for middle- and low-income people. What do Vermonters want in the U.S. Senate — a millionaire who’s great at smear campaigning, or a Vermonter who has a consistent, reliable, long-term record of working hard on issues that matter to us regular Vermonters?
Anya Hunter

What Tarrant’s ads tell us

Assuming, for a moment, that Rich Tarrant actually believes his own negative ads, what does that tell us about the kind of legislator he would be if elected? It tells us that he would be naive and superficial in his personal review of legislation before casting his votes; that he is likely to be a knee-jerk voter, responding to his party's call for solidarity rather than carefully screening all of the implications of proposed legislation for constitutional violations.

Consider the focus of Tarrant's negative ads: women, workers, the elderly, and the poor. In recent years, the Republicans have not favored these populations in drafting legislation. The intelligent voter will therefore immediately smell a rat when listening to the Tarrant ads.

These are Sanders’ traditional constituents, and always have been. How likely is it that he would cast a vote that is unfavorable to their interests? Visit for Sanders’ own words on why he has voted the way he has. He has never wavered from his commitment to his constituents.

Sanders votes with a conscience, and will not endorse a bill that violates any of those principles, no matter how glossily it is titled by the ruling majority. If Tarrant has some real ideas of his own, and I certainly hope he does, let's hear what those are and stop polluting the airwaves with poisonous mistruths.
Sue Prent
St. Albans

The pope’s amnesia

Pope Benedict XVI suffers from a serious case of amnesia. I read with disgust his statement that Islam and Muslims have a tendency for violence and that Islam promotes “ holy wars.” It is amazing how this man forgot that for 34 days the Arabs living in Lebanon suffered bombings by Jews using Christian-made weapons from the United States; how tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs — Christians as well as Muslims — are crying for help from the criminal actions by the Jewish state of Israel how the Christians of Palestine are living in sheer poverty at the mercy of Jews armed with guns made by Christians in Europe and the United States to deprive them of their land and water and to subdue them into submission to their racist policies.

It makes me wonder where Pope Benedict has been in the last four decades to see the bombings in Iraq, Serbia, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine against Arabs and Muslims whose only crime is that they sit on the most prized piece of real estate that God created.

Pope Benedict should stick to doing what he and the Vatican do well: collect donations and accumulate wealth and protect buildings in the Holy Land that they can use to raise even more money.
Riad Elsolh Hamad
Austin, TX