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Vermont Guardian

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posted December 15, 2006

Keep Vermont’s gun laws
It would be a sad day for Vermont if our gun laws were changed (Vermont Guardian, Dec. 8). Why would I want the federal government in my life. I do not see how this will help. Tell Boston Mayor Tom Menino to stop the drugs. Massachusetts has strict gun laws and a lot of crime. I lived there. I moved to Vermont because I wanted less government, not more.
Mike Goetz
Franklin

Loan it to the library
In regards to the Laurie David’s “ten tips to slow global warming,” and specifically tip number 10 (www.vermontguardian.com, Nov. 30) — “Buy a copy of An Inconvenient Truth for each person on your holiday gift list.”

How about amending that tip to “buy one copy for your local library and e-mail your friends to let them know it’s available to borrow”?
Think of the paper (trees) that will save.
Joel O’Brien
Randolph

School taxes and costs: politics or policy?
With the election finally behind us, the Vermont Legislature is preparing for a legislative session that will address the escalating burden of property taxes. This campaign season we heard from voters that they want real solutions that ease the property tax burden while maintaining the high quality of our schools. Vermonters sent a clear message to our state’s leaders: Work together to come up with responsible, substantive proposals that bring property taxes under control.

That’s why it is so disappointing that a group of state legislators and some municipal leaders have been advocating a property tax “solution” that is neither responsible nor substantive. The effort, which some legislative candidates used as campaign platforms and a handful of municipalities have endorsed, is known as “Revolt and Repeal” because it advocates the total elimination of the current school funding system.

For Vermonters who are exasperated with rising property taxes, “Revolt and Repeal” might sound appealing at first glance, but take a second look and the idea looks more like cotton candy: all fluff and no substance. Advocates of “Revolt and Repeal” want to throw out the current system, which clearly needs to be adjusted, but they fail to propose an alternative system. In the process, they have unnecessarily politicized an issue on which leaders of all parties should be working together.

Thankfully, voters refused to take this political gimmick seriously. They knew better than to support scrapping the current system of funding our schools without so much as a suggestion for how to replace it.

Instead, Vermonters are looking for real solutions. While some of these solutions will be developed during the legislative session, the Vermont House will pursue proposals that focus on containing increases in spending and retooling our education delivery and finance systems. As we consider different proposals — substantive proposals, not gimmicks like “Revolt and Repeal” — we will keep three fundamental principles in mind.

First, all Vermont children deserve an equal educational opportunity.

Second, Vermonters should pay their school taxes based on their ability to pay.

Third, there must be incentives to deliver high quality education in a cost effective way.

Using these principles as a guide, we will look for ways to contain the costs of public education without compromising quality or jeopardizing small schools that are so important to our rural communities. We will continue the hard work of addressing health care and energy costs, two of the key drivers of school budgets. But fundamental questions such as our governance structure, increasing numbers of children with special needs, and the ever increasing expectations our communities have of our schools must also be part of any serious discussion of school costs.

Throughout this process we will keep an open mind and welcome suggestions from all sides. There are reasons to be optimistic that we can come together in the upcoming legislative session. For one thing, we are starting with a school funding system that in and of itself was designed and supported by Gov. Jim Douglas and what was then a Republican House and a Democratic Senate. We applaud the education commissioner for starting a dialogue about governance and district consolidation, and encourage all Vermonters to join the conversation. Gov. Douglas and others have raised questions about the student-teacher ratios in our schools, and we take those concerns seriously.

But what we won’t take seriously are efforts such as “Revolt and Repeal” that provide no constructive plan for the future. Property taxes are too high for everyone in Vermont. Unless we shutter our schools, they are not just going to go away. We expect the Committee on Ways and Means to approach this responsibility in a non-partisan way and to propose modifications to our tax system which comply with the Vermont Constitution and deliver a quality education to all Vermont school children. Vermonters expect nothing less.

Rep. Michael Obuchowski,
D-Bellows Falls

Rep. Harvey “Bud” Otterman, R-West Topsham

Rep. Obuchowski and Rep. Otterman are the chairman and vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The perfect holiday gift
The dreadful task of finding gifts for the family is at hand. Why buy an electronic device that will only serve as a tool for your kids to tune you out?
My suggestion will be enjoyed by your family for years to come. More importantly, it will forge a lifelong bond between you and your children. Purchase everyone in your family a fishing license for Christmas.

Add an inexpensive fishing pole and tackle. You can probably get out of this deal for as little as thirty bucks a person. Make this a family affair and you can all have something to look forward to over the long winter months.

The great thing about fishing with your family is that it works out in so many ways. You can add food to the table. Many kids get a kick out of actually being the one who put the fish in the fry pan. You can always choose to release the fish you catch, alive and healthy. It’s a great lesson in conservation and character.

You can catch nothing at all; in that case your reward is the communication you have with your family without the everyday distractions that hover around us at home. The magic that takes place when you fish with your kids is that the experience is shared by only those with you.

Does it draw a family closer? I don’t know, but years later I still find myself sitting around the table at my parents’ summer camp, laughing and relaying our fishing adventures to my own children.

When my children are grown and have busy lives of their own, I can only hope that they choose to spend their precious summer Saturdays with me.
Run out and buy your family that fishing license and gear for Christmas. You will have an excellent year, I guarantee it.
Steven Jewell
Cambridge

Iraq’s legacy
The newspapers and online media recently carried several news items that leave the average reader in the United States dazed and confused.

When Pres. George W. Bush declared the war on Arabs and Muslims and invaded Iraq in 2003, the stated objectives were to find weapons of mass destruction, building Iraq as a beacon for democracy in the Middle East, and to rebuild Iraq’s economy and infrastructure similar to rebuilding Germany after World War II.

However, the objectives did not match the deeds as ambassador Paul Bremer imposed through cajoling the Iraqi parliament — elected under the guns of the more than 150,000 occupation troops — to adopt a constitution eliminating the secular nature of Arab Iraq. Additionally, the new constitution declared in the first items of the constitution that Iraq is “a nation for Sunni, Shia and Kurds,” a declaration that along with calculated actions by the United States armed forces led to the current civil and religious strife in Iraq.

Bush met two weeks ago with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a religious crony in Iraq who lived in the United States before the invasion and was one of the associates of the ill famed CIA operative Ahmad Shalabi. Al-Hakim wants to set up an Iraqi government based on Muslim Sharia similar to that of Iran. That is really confusing. If the intention of the war was to set up a democracy in Iraq, why adopt a constitution that officially installs for the first time in any Arab country a government along religious and ethnic lines. According to the United Nations, Iraq as a secular country under the former Baath Party, had the second highest quality of water system in the world after Japan. All the citizens of Iraq had access to full health and educational benefits free of charge from the revenues of the oil reserves regardless of their ethnicity and religion. Iraq was the only country in the world where Kurds had their own television stations, universities, and newspapers despite all the bad publicity that Saddam earned in Iraq.

Iraq today has a dysfunctional government, a devastated infrastructure, a society that has turned against itself through religious killings instigated by the U.S occupation. This is despite the fact that Iraqi government records show that prior to the war, one third of marriages in Iraq were intermarriages between Sunni and Shia. The animosity of Arabs and Muslims reached yet another high due to the unconditional support by the United States of the illegal Israeli occupation of Arab land and the theft of their water and resources. I think that the objectives of the war were to eliminate Iraq as a strategic threat to Israel, occupy Iraq as a stepping stone to dominating the region, and to allow Israel to continue its policies of more occupation and more theft of Arab land and resources.

The mission has been accomplished and it is time now for the United States declare victory and leave and bring our troops home.
Riad Elsolh Hamad
Austin, TX

Iraq’s toll of slain journalists continues to rise
Iraq is a dangerous and chaotic place for our brave soldiers there, for our coalition partners, and for Iraqi families who must struggle just to make it safely through each day.

It is also a perilous place for the journalists who attempt to cover the situation on the ground. They are at the front of the front lines of this conflict, and the dispatches from Iraq produced by representatives of a free and independent press are a vital conduit of information that helps people — and their representatives in government — to make more informed decisions. These are print reporters, television correspondents, photo journalists, and the other professionals who help journalists in gathering and transmitting the news.

We learned in recent days of the deaths of two more news professionals. Raad Jaafar Hamadi, a journalist with the daily Al-Sabah, was shot dead in his car in the east of Baghdad on Nov. 22. Fadhila Abdelkarim, an administrative staff worker of TV station Nainawa, was shot outside her home in Mosul on Nov. 26.

U.S. media professionals have been among the casualties. They are as well known to us as NBC correspondent David Bloom, and those whom we will never know by their bylines or on our TV screens. Director General Koichiro Matsuura of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — UNESCO — this week noted that the number of media professionals killed in Iraq continues to grow unabated, and that “since January more than 35 journalists have paid with their lives for their determination to fulfill their mission.”

According to Reporters without Borders, 137 journalists and media assistants have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war in 2003, while 51 have been kidnapped. Four of the kidnap victims are still being held hostage.

Some in the administration have chosen over the years to disparage the journalists serving in Iraq — for instance, labeling them “lazy” or unwilling to leave their bureaus or hotels.

The reality is far different. Day after day, journalists in Iraq face, and accept, incredible dangers just to do their jobs. As news professionals on one of the most challenging and important news beats on the planet, they deserve great credit for their courage and their commitment, and they deserve our appreciation.
Patrick Leahy
Middlesex

Patrick Leahy is Vermont’s senior U.S. senator.