November 30, 2002

Jeffords Muddles in the Middle

Mr Jeffords points up serious issues the country faces, but I fear his solutions will cost multiple tens of billions, dollars the US does not have. Though I note this opinion piece fails to mention health care, perhaps you favor a single payer system, Jim???

But I worry that the list of issues that dominated the election season was woefully incomplete. As we respond daily to the latest threats of terror highlighted by the administration, I believe other issues that bear directly on the security of our homeland are being dangerously obscured.
Our slumping economy, our threatened environment, our underfunded schools, our corporate scandals — these are not issues that you will hear discussed by the White House, but they are being talked about by people who don't have the power to define the nation's agenda.

Since the election, my decision to leave the Republican Party last year has been subject to new scrutiny. The attention on my personal decision, while understandable, is misplaced. If the Republicans read the recent election results as a rejection of moderation and a mandate to steamroll opposition from within the party, they will be making a grave mistake.

The attention is not at all misplaced, Mr. Jeffords. You made a decision to join the Democrats to sponsor an agenda different than Mr. Bush's. By joining the Democrats you succeeded in accomplishing next to nothing in the last session of Congress. In your desire to oppose the Bush administration, you have made your bed in the Democrat's tent. Though you may lament until the cows come home, your decision is irrevocable. You are as independent as is Mr. Daschle! You may as well join the Democratic party, but that would upset many Vermont Republicans who voted for you. Most Vermont Republicans would send you off to The Dems with a flourish. Rest assured they would not vote for you again. But if you join the Democratic Party, you may not be able to collaborate with Mr. Sanders to become the leaders of Vermont's new Independent Party.

Bias, Bias Everywhere

Paul Krugman's lament in the Times focuses on the TV news media and ignores the print media, as though bias has only a video home. By omitting examples in the print trade, he backhandedly suggests that print media 's bias is non-existent.

Krugman quotes his hero, Al..."This week Al Gore said the obvious. "The media is kind of weird these days on politics," he told The New York Observer, "and there are some major institutional voices that are, truthfully speaking, part and parcel of the Republican Party." Krugman continues... "The reaction from most journalists in the "liberal media" was embarrassed silence. I don't quite understand why, but there are some things that you're not supposed to say, precisely because they're so clearly true. Cable television has greatly expanded the range of available entertainment, but has had far less broadening effect on news coverage. There are now five major sources of TV news, rather than three, but this increase is arguably more than offset by other trends. For one thing, the influence of print news has continued its long decline; for another, all five sources of TV news are now divisions of large conglomerates - you get your news from AOLTimeWarnerGeneralElectricDisneyWestinghouseNewsCorp.

Krugman concludes... "Do the conflicts of interest of our highly concentrated media constitute a threat to democracy? I've reported; you decide."

Let's not forget that bias is merely opinion, albeit institutional opinion that may improperly sway people. Bias is prevalent in all media and the targets of bias, Republicans and Democrats alike, should continually point out when it is blatant. Bias has always existed, but thoughtful readers and viewers should recognize and filter it when evaluating news and commentary. Unfortunately, our time pressed, channel surfing, page flipping, viewing and reading habits seldom foster a discriminating and thoughtful approach to the news...wherever we find it.

November 25, 2002

Maine and Vermont Share Many Concerns

During a brief visit to Maine this weekend I noted that the Kennebec Journal in Waterville reports the same concerns in Maine as highlighted in our recent Vermont election. They are: health care costs, economic development and too-high taxes. The New York Times today also points to the fiscal problems facing most state legislatures. We have a tough two years ahead to balance our respective state budgets.

Maine is toying with an Indian casino in Sanford and perhaps a second in northern Maine. Thankfully, we have no federally recognized Vermont Indian tribes, otherwise they'd be wanting a casino in Vermont. Let's not go down that road here, Mr. Douglas. Governor Dean, to his credit, opposed Vermont casino gambling and Powerball. I hope you, sir, follow suit.

November 17, 2002

Hold The Bridge

Nancy Remson's article (BFP 11/4) illuminates the irrational decision to build an outrageously expensive bicycle and foot bridge across the Winooski River between Burlington and Colchester. Thankfully, Representatives Schiavone, Obuchowski and Helm are paying close attention to the cost overruns resulting from changes required during the permit approval process. Mr. Bowler, quoted by Ms. Remsen, is correct. "It would be wrong to be putting this kind of money into a bike bridge." I encourage the Legislature to deny funding for this project.

A $3.2 million bridge whose costs have doubled during the design process to obtain permits and to protect beetles and plants is a bad investment. This is a clear example of how project costs escalate because of permit requirements

Only 10 minutes from my home, I have used Delta Park for many years for walks and relaxation and find the seasonal ferry transporting cyclers between towns an adequate solution. Living along the bike route in Colchester, I am satisfied with the present arrangement utilizing a seasonal ferry.

The bridge project is untimely and far too expensive.

November 13, 2002

Senate Democrats Playing 'Nice'

Today's news in the New York Times suggests the Democrats are a party of pure politics, not principal (I could probably say that about Republicans, too, though I don't sense the same blatant show of it from them). If the Senate Judiciary Committee 'suddenly' believes that two nominees previously held from confirmation are now well qualified and deserve appointment after the mid term elections, why not before? The name of the game is 'power.' Why should I be surprised?

Suddenly, again after the election, a compromise has been found in the contentious elements of the homeland security bill. Again, power rules over principle. I must suffer from too much idealism.

Republicans said today that they recognized the agreement to vote less as a gesture of good will than as an appeal to Senator Hatch to be kind as he allocates committee and staff resources.

In addition, approving the two nominees could give the Democrats greater credibility in opposing other Bush nominees later.

November 11, 2002

The Greed Machine

Yes. All this is true. However 'we', the investors, share some blame, too. After all, capitalism enshrined in the equities markets, though much better than any other system designed so far, is built on both information and greed. Not only the greed of the money amangers and corporate crooks, but our own greed as investors/speculators. Bad (untruthful or unshared) information + greed = the results we've seen from these high-flying crooks.

Sorry to say that a few ethics courses in business schools may only be salve, rather than radical surgery for our best and brightest...the 'me' generation.
By Bill Mann (TMF Otter)
November 6, 2002

"Several months ago, we opined that investors would gain some confidence in the U.S. stock market when they began to see the masterminds of the big corporate scams doing perp walks.

Well, we were wrong. In the last few weeks, Andrew Fastow, the Enron CFO whiz kid who engineered the myriad off-balance-sheet rat holes to hide
company debt, was arrested. A few days earlier, two former top Tyco (NYSE: TYC) executives, Mark Swartz and Dennis Kozlowski, were charged with theft of some $400 million. Tyco responded by suing to recover a severance
package of $45 million paid to Swartz. He is fighting, saying that he negotiated the severance in good faith. To which I say, "Good faith?! How dare you?"

I haven't lost directly from the big corporate scandals, though I didn't get rid of Qwest (NYSE: Q) when I first had doubts about the veracity of its top brass. But these scandals have hurt all of us; they've jolted our confidence in the U.S. markets. And mostly, they let us know just how little some people in power care about the "good faith" investors put in them."

War is Fought by People, Not Machines

On this Veterans Day, instituted after the WW I armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we should remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. Today's high-tech weaponry may lull people into thinking antiseptic warfare is here to stay, but war is a nasty business and should be a last resort when politics and diplomacy fail. The evil in this world must be confronted continually and war remains the ultimate stage for confronting it.

While anti-war protestors and anti-globalization foes rally in Florence, Italy, I fail to understand the alternative they may offer. Perhaps it's the media coverage or the violence and destruction of property exhibited by these groups during other rallies in Genoa and Seattle that persuades me they have no better answer to the problem of evil.

May God rest the souls of the American warriors who have paid the ultimate price in man's inhumanity toward man.

November 10, 2002

Vermont Jobs and Permit Process Reform

Now that Mr. Douglas has been elected Governor, he and Lt. Governor Dubie have some might big expectations to meet. I think many Vermonters believe that Mr. Douglas and Mr. Dubie can actually create jobs. Short of increasing government payrolls or massive public works projects, government does not create jobs, businesses and entrepreneurs do.

Government can encourage job creation by the policies, procedures and regulation (or lack thereof) implemented, particularly via tax credits and other methods to ease the burden that businesses would otherwise face. Examples are the greasing of the skids for Husky Manufacturing to locate in Milton and the VEPC tax credits and VEDA guaranteed and low interest rate financing made available to many small businesses. All these incentives can help create or retain jobs, but we should not expect miracles.

Permit process reform is another area during the campaign that all the candidates promised to implement. This is a crying need in Vermont, not just for environmental permits, but any permits needed to do business here, should be based on a predictable and speedy process. The last thing a business needs is uncertainty while expending substantial sums on lawyers and experts to meet permit requirements.

An excellent and needed amendment to the permit process is to prevent those who would game the legal system and the permit hearing and approval process to slow down or obfuscate the development the disagree with. There are legitimate concerns raised by proposed developments, but only those persons or businesses affected by them should be party to the process.

The Conservation Law Foundation in particular should be restrained from throwing up roadblocks to legitimate projects as they did recently in Bennington when a new school was planned. These tactics of delay and obfuscation drive up the cost of doing business in Vermont and should be sharply curtailed.

November 6, 2002

Senator Jeffords Retirement

With the GOP regaining control of the US Senate, Senator Jeffords' retirement plans must be taking center spot in his mind today. Or he is working feverishly to persuade other Republican senators to switch, too. Perhaps he'll return to Vermont when his Senate term is up to run for Governor.

November 4, 2002

Who Pays the US Income Taxes?

"The top 1% of tax filers paid 37.42% of all personal federal income taxes in 2000, and the top 50% paid 96.09% of all such taxes, according to the Internal Revenue Service." This according to Albert Crenshaw of The Washington Post as reported in the Burlington Free Press on November 3, 2002.

As we listen to the perpetual rants of Mr. Sanders and others about the recent tax cuts (whose effects are not included in the IRS data), we should always keep in mind who pays the taxes that may be reduced. The bombastic ravings of many would suggest that the rich are receiving the Bush tax cuts. True enough, but these political opportunists, such as Mr. Sanders, never state the facts about who pays the taxes. This is disingenuous and only half the truth stated for political and ideological reasons to further an agenda of income redistribution.

November 2, 2002

Democracy or Republic?

In many ways we have confounded the framers' beliefs when they debated and framed the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. We have moved moved far from the original intent of government which was to be always by the consent of the governed. With many issues, particularly the push by some for universal health care, we heap upon government tasks they are ill equipped to perform well. We continue to push every conceivable 'do it for me' service under the umbrella of the Constitution's preamble to 'promote the general welfare.', so much so that we threaten to bankrupt government or raise income or property taxes so high as to be burdensome on the diminishing few who pay them.

Thoughts to ponder as this election season is upon us...

"A contemporary of our Founders, Scottish jurist and historian Sir Alexander Fraser Tytler, wrote 'A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that time on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.'"

The concept of self-government presupposes several things, most notably the ability of citizens to think for themselves, and their willingness to do so. The Founders of this nation knew that government always tends to expand its power at the expense of individual rights, and they understood that individuals would often act from personal motives at the expense of the national good. They also believed that individual motivations, even when massed together in what they called "factions", could be counteracted by other individuals and other factions, and that when the will of the whole population was expressed it would represent a balance that would tend toward the best interests of the nation as a whole. This also presupposed that people would be reasonably well informed about the issues of the day. For this, the Founders depended on a free and independent press. But despite what most people think today, our Founders did not establish a democracy in which the majority was the ultimate arbiter of what is in the best interests of the nation. The Founders distrusted democracies, because down that road lay tyranny.

In Federalist # 10 James Madison wrote, " ...democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have even been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."

November 1, 2002

Who's Running the Show?

Catherine Crier in "The Case Against Lawyers" doesn't cite that example as she makes her main point: that we the people have ceded power to a corps of lawyers and bureaucrats who are not only smothering us in silly regulations, but are also seizing huge profits for themselves, corrupting the political system and generally undermining freedom and the sense of responsibility. But Ms. Crier, the television newscaster who is currently host of "Catherine Crier Live" on Court TV, doesn't lack for illustrations. Her book is a kind of lament from within the commonsensical heart of the American spirit.

Though panned in this review by the NY Times, we are fast becoming a society whose culture and processes are ruled more by lawyers, judges and bureaucrats than by us as individuals. Getting something done is no longer easily accomplished for fear of laws, rules, regulations, restrictions, pesky neighbors, etc., even in Vermont. Everyone is a victim of something or encouraged to be one by a lawyer willing to take the case. This bodes badly for freedom, independence and personal responsibility.

That such a book has risen to the stature to be reviewed by The Times, is telling.

Euripides Says...

"A man's most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe."