[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
“Sleeping in your car should not be a crime when it’s all you have.”
“Asking for help should not be illegal.”
“Keep your coins, I want social change.” So read just a few of the signs being held by protesters in Bennington, Sunday afternoon. The group had assembled to voice concerns over a recent amendment to the town’s “Improper Use of Public Way and Abatement of Public Nuisances” ordinance. In short, town officials are attempting to curb panhandling on public property. The Bennington Selectboard drafted and voted on the change after Town Manager Stuart Hurd received complaints from the Better Bennington Corporation and the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.
And while the amendment goes into effect in about 60 days, many in the community are already voicing concern over a specific aspect of the law, which restricts people’s ability to use a vehicle as housing — something many homeless people are forced to do. In fact, some might almost consider a car a luxury, when the only other choice is a sleeping bag under a bridge.
Another sign that caught our attention: “Solve the problem, don’t move it.”
By some, this amendment is viewed as simply an effort to shift Bennington’s homeless to other communities (Out of sight, out of mind?). Compounding that viewpoint, Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette at last week’s Selectboard meeting suggested those in need be referred to neighboring Brattleboro or Albany, N.Y.
Perhaps Bennington should, instead, focus on better support of the resources in its own community, like the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless.
Reality check: This is not a Bennington-exclusive issue. The resources in Brattleboro struggle greatly, as well. And surely we need not remind you of recent struggles in the Bellows Falls area, over the past several years, in simply locating a warming shelter.
The Greater Falls Warming Shelter opened for the season on Nov. 18, its second year in its new location in North Walpole, N.H. The shelter can serve, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week, up to 10 individuals without stable housing. (And, while we’re on the topic, volunteers are being sought to staff the shelter every evening in shifts from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. and 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.) Here in Brattleboro, we’re heartened by the many efforts of the community to support these needed resources for those in need. This past October, Morningside Shelter held its third annual Hike for the Homeless fundraiser on Mount Wantastiquet in Hinsdale, N.H. Nearly 150 participants took part and helped Morningside raise nearly $20,000 in support of the Shelter’s work.
“I am thrilled,” Morningside Executive Director Joshua Davis said after the event. “Every dollar we raise is used to support our mission to create individualized solutions to homelessness in our region. We’re the only year-round homeless shelter in southeastern Vermont, and our services are consistently in high demand, regardless of the season.”
And this past November, members of Students Supporting Veterans at Brattleboro Union High School, after spending much of the year fundraising, presented a $500 check to Home At Last, a local nonprofit that provides mobile homes to veterans.
Or consider the annual Warm Hands effort, in which local faith communities collaborate in the collection of warm clothing and bedding for those in need. Items donated are distributed to the homeless and those at risk through Morningside Shelter and the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center. Warm clothing, especially jackets and sweaters, hats, boots, socks and gloves are especially needed as are pillows, blankets and sleeping bags. (Want to take part? Drop off points are located at: Guilford Community Church; Centre Congregational Church; First Baptist Church; St. Michael’s Episcopal Church; and the Putney Friends Meeting.) Back to yesterday’s protest in Bennington; One other sign we liked: “Brother can you spare some sense?”
We don’t presume there’s an easy answer or solution to solve the homelessness crisis. It’s a widespread problem. But there are easy ways to help. If you can spare some money, however little, there are (local) organizations that can use it. Extra food? Unused clothing? There’s a place for that, too. Even if all you have to offer is a little time, there are plenty of ways for volunteerism to be put to good use.
This is not a problem with no face. These are former friends, families, people who for whatever reason have fallen on hard times. They’re part of our communities. And this time of year, as temperatures continue to drop, they need our help more than ever.
Far be it for us, from afar, to second-guess how Bennington chooses to look at its issues. But we believe treating the effort proactively, as opposed to shifting it, is the best policy. It’s the neighborly choice.
[Here's a sneak peek at Friday's editorial -- marking the launch of the Reformer Christmas Stocking fundraising effort.]
It’s hard to believe, but today the Reformer Christmas Stocking enters its 77th season.
Seventy-seven years ago, a group of volunteers pulled together with a single goal: To ensure that children in need in Windham County and southwestern New Hampshire stay warm through the winter.
And thus, the Reformer Christmas Stocking was born.
And each year since, we have asked and the community has delivered.
In its first year — 1937 — the Stocking collected $280. Last year, more than $90,000 was raised from individuals, groups, businesses schools and organizations in the community. The brand-new, winter clothes were distributed earlier this month to children from more than 600 families in southeastern Vermont and neighboring New Hampshire.
That means 1,330 children will not have to worry about when they’ll get winter coats, boots, snowpants, mittens and hats this year.
The Christmas Stocking is run by volunteers, and keeping the area’s children warm is a year-round mission. They spend long hours meeting in advance of each year’s clothes distribution, combing through applications and getting ready for the fundraising campaign. Some volunteers help unload shipments and organize the clothes while others don the signature red aprons and help families find just the right fit for the kids. And then there are those who spend hour upon hour knitting mittens and caps.
Our goal this year — to raise $90,000 — has remained unchanged since 2008. During our last drive you managed to donate more than $94,000, with money still arriving well into January. Families with children ages 0-15 from homes with low incomes, high medical bills or even loss of income due to layoffs receive winter clothing through the Stocking. This is our way to help those families out in some way, and the many people who continue to help us year
after year continue to come through and keep the spirit of the Reformer Christmas Stocking alive and well in good times and bad. We hope that tradition continues.
Each and every year, we are amazed by and extremely grateful to everyone that helps contribute to this cause. Our mission is to reach our target by Christmas; last season it took until Jan. 24, 2013. Contributions, which are tax deductible, may be sent to Reformer Christmas Stocking, P.O. Box 703, Brattleboro, VT 05302-0703. Donations may also be brought to our office at 62 Black Mountain Road. You can also visit us online — www.Reformer.com/ChristmasStocking
— where you will find information, forms, photos and a link to PayPal, where you are able to donate to the Stocking via credit card.
For the past seven-and-a-half-plus decades, thousands upon thousands of children have been clothed by the generosity of their neighbors. And that generosity has meant more than can be expressed through mere words, but here’s a few comments to consider from those who have been helped by the Stocking:
“My parents donate money every year. Even if it’s only $20, every little bit helps. ... and it comes back to you if you donate one year and find that you need the Christmas Stocking in the future.”
“We have no extra money, and this is great for us — to get new clothes and boots to keep the kids warm.”
“This is a great program. I’ve never been here, and you look around and say, ‘People really do care. They really do.”
Yes, people really do care, and each year, the Christmas Stocking proves it.
On behalf of the children of Windham County and southwestern New Hampshire, we thank you.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
On Wednesday, the New England Economic Partnership released a new report, stating that federal spending cuts and reduced consumer demand are slowing economic growth throughout New England.
That growth could be as low as 3 percent through 2017, which the Partnership — a nonprofit that provides analyses and forecasts — said is less than what would even be considered moderate.
On top of that, an average employment growth of 2 percent in the region will be below the national average. New England’s unemployment rate is expected to decline gradually — from 6.7 percent in this year’s third quarter to 6.4 percent in late 2014 and to below 6 percent in the first quarter of 2016 — in part due to slow employment growth elsewhere in the region, according to a recent Associated Press report.
But there are bright spots to consider from the report, as well.
First and foremost, the region’s strongest economies will continue to be found in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts over the next four years.
Likewise, Massachusetts has already recovered jobs lost during the 18-month recession from December 2007 to June 2009. And Vermont will soon follow.
“The greater Boston area has been a bright spot in the New England economy,” Ross Gittell, manager of the New England forecast, told the Associated Press, “leading the region in job growth and more than recovering the jobs lost in the recession.”
New Hampshire, meanwhile, may not reach its pre-recession job count until next spring.
“That’s by any measure a fairly disappointing performance for the New Hampshire economy,” Dennis Delay, an economist with the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, said. “Usually we’re a leader in economic growth and job growth.”
Looking ahead to 2017, unemployment is expected to be lowest in New Hampshire (3.3 percent), with Vermont a close second (at 3.7 percent). Not bad, compared to the rest of the region: Maine, 6 percent; Rhode Island, 6. 1 percent; and Connecticut, 6.5 percent.
A few other statistics to consider: — Regionally, the unemployment rate will be 5.4 percent by mid-2017, a “significant” decline from the peak of 8.7 percent in 2010.
— New Hampshire will enjoy the regions strongest annual average growth rate (1.8 percent); Maine will have the lowest at 0.7 percent.
While there’s still challenges to be met here in the Green Mountain State — a shrinking labor force, lack of skilled workers and aging population — there’s still plenty of ways for officials at the local and state levels to battle those challenges. (Just look at the good work being done by the Southern Vermont Revitalization project.) Much of this news should come as no surprise. After all, we heard time and again as the nation was deep into the recession that much of New England was fairing better than the rest of the country when it came to unemployment levels and other economic factors. The cost of weathering the storm better than others would come during recovery, as the region would ride the tail-end of the upward swing.
We don’t know about you, but when looking at many states that were faced with or are facing bankruptcy, we’ll take what we got. Not too bad, especially when you consider that in the midst of this economic crisis we had all the damage caused by the flooding brought by Tropical Storm Irene to deal with.
As one final element to the silver linings found in the New England Economic Partnership’s forecast, the housing market continues to perform well, as home prices and sales continue to rise, leading to boosts in construction and other related industries. In all but one New England state housing prices are expected to remain below their peak levels. That one state expected to over-perform? Vermont.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
Today marks the one year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy coming ashore in New Jersey, slowly marching inland and leave a swath of destruction in its wake. The storm swamped lower Manhattan with a 13 foot surge of seawater; It devastated New Jersey coastal communities; When all was said and done, more than 8 million people were left without power. The storm and its aftermath would kill more than 100 people in the United States.
Luckily, the Green Mountain State was spared the brunt of this storm. Which is a good thing, as we were still embroiled in our own efforts to bounce back from the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene, little more than a year earlier.
Today, more than two years after Irene’s floodwaters have receded, there’s still evidence of the hard work going in to returning to the “status quo.”
Last week, Newfane officials marked a milestone in the town’s long, ongoing recovery from Tropical Storm Irene. Newfane’s first buyout of a property severely damaged by Irene was completed Thursday as the town took title to 236 Dover Road.
Federally-funded buyouts still are in the works, but this was a significant development that came nearly 26 months after Irene’s severe flooding devastated the town.
“We’re making progress,” Selectboard Chairman Jon Mack told the Reformer. “It’s a slow process.”
Newfane is one of many towns across Windham County which still bear the scars from Irene and continues to repair infrastructure washed away in the Aug. 28, 2011 flood: A new Hunter Brook Bridge is nearly complete, and Lynch Bridge is due to be replaced next year. Jamaica is still in the midst of completing buyouts for homes on Water Street. Similar projects continue in and around the Deerfield Valley. Or, consider beloved local eatery, Dot’s, in Wilmington, which is tentatively planning to reopen next month.
Our point being, just as our recovery, over a relatively small area of the country, is continuing to this day, so will our neighbors to the south and on the East Coast continue to deal with the aftereffects for years to come.
The silver lining to living through such challenges is to see humanity at its best, as neighbors help neighbors, and communities pull together in the unlikeliest of ways to do good. It is those moments the best of who we are is on display.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
During a press conference this past August, announcing the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, the president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, Bill Mohl, said the decision to stop producing power at the plant was based on the economics of the plant, and not operational performance, litigation risks or political pressure. “Simply put, the plant costs exceed the plant’s revenues and this asset is not financially viable. Despite its excellent track record, Vermont Yankee is a single, small-unit nuclear station operating in a very challenging marketing environment.”
In our coverage of the closure, we stated that “most challenging for Yankee was competition from producers using natural gas to power turbines to create electricity. Due to advancements in hydraulic fracturing, extraction companies have been able to exploit reserves in the Marcellus Formation, driving down the price of natural gas.”
Ah yes, hydraulic fracturing, more commonly referred to as fracking, is becoming more and more popular in pockets around the country, while others — like lawmakers here in Vermont — view the relatively new process with more skepticism.
(Of note, Vermont was actually the first state to ban fracking in 2012, when Gov. Peter Shumlin signed Act 152.) Last month, the Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center issued it’s latest report, “Fracking by the Numbers,” in which it measured the damage being caused by the so-called “controversial drilling practice” across the United States.
The report’s authors attempt to compile a comprehensive measurement of fracking’s after-effects — that includes toxic wastewater, water use, chemical use, air pollution, land damage and global warming emissions.
“When it comes to fracking, the numbers don’t lie,” said Ben Hellerstein, field associate with Environment Massachusetts. “Fracking has created billions of gallons of toxic wastewater and damaged hundreds of thousands of acres of land across the country.”
According to the report, “in Pennsylvania alone, fracked wells produced 1.2 billion gallons of wastewater in 2012. Often laced with cancer- causing and even radioactive material, toxic fracking waste has contaminated drinking water sources from Pennsylvania to New Mexico.”
The report also caught the attention of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, who are using it to continue conversations about Vermont Gas Systems’ proposed pipeline expansion, a 43-mile, $86.6 million natural gas pipeline that would pass through Addison County if approved by the Public Service Board. Why? Well, because as a recent report by Vermont Digger points out, “the pipeline would be used to distribute natural gas to customers of Vermont Gas, which derives some of its supply from natural gas wells outside the state that use ‘fracking’ techniques.”
“If fracking is too dirty and dangerous for us here in Vermont, then we must admit that it is not acceptable just because it’s taking place in Alberta, Pennsylvania or anyplace else,” Paul Burns, executive director for VPIRG, told the online news source.
For a moment, thought, let’s take a look at the other side of the issue. Take, for instance, last week’s opinion piece by New York Times columnist and self-described fracking-supporter Joe Nocera, “A Fracking Rorschach Test.”
Nocera writes: “Thanks to the fracking boom, America is on the verge of overtaking Russia as the world’s largest producer of oil and gas ... Supporters ... tend to focus on the economic and foreign policy blessings that come with being able to supply so much more of our energy needs in-house, as it were. Critics, however, fear that fracking could have grave environmental consequences. And they worry that the abundance of natural gas will keep America hooked on fossil fuels.”
The meat of his piece, however, is on a Cornell University study published in 2011, which Nocera astutely describes as “purely an estimate” due to the fact “very little hard data” existed.
But isn’t that the real problem, here?
Consider this: Fracking is currently underway in 17 states, and more than 80,000 wells have been drilled since 2005. New gas deposits are being discovered in new places all the time (recently just south of us in Western Massachusetts).
Is it dangerous and damaging to the environment? Well, it certainly would seem so. But more than that, we tend to echo the sentiment of yesterday’s opinion piece published by the website LiveScience: “We deserve a better fracking debate.”
The truth is, the evidence, be it pro or con, is in short supply.
“Citizens are hungry for reliable information about new unconventional oil and gas development,” writes Gretchen Goldman, “but they aren’t receiving it. Interference in the science, weak or non-existent laws and misinformation from industry and activists have clouded the conversation.”
If this truly is the future of our nation’s energy industry, or at least a part of it, then more — much more — investigation and oversight needs to be going on. Without that, how can you expect anyone to make an informed judgment?
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
You have two groups fighting over the same issue.
On the one side, a group which has (for all intents and purposes) followed the law as it was laid out. While the road to where we’re at was bumpy, efforts were made to meet opposition along the way (to varying degrees of success).
On the other side, it would seem a fairly vocal minority, having been thwarted at every bump along the way, has finally gotten a few, governmentally important ears to listen, and suddenly (and unfairly) all process has ceased. Sounds an awful lot like the scenario playing out in Washington, D.C., at the moment — with the fight over “Obamacare” leading to a government shutdown — doesn’t it? But we’re actually referring to the ongoing fight over a proposed skatepark in Brattleboro.
When Brattleboro Area Skatepark is Coming — aka BASIC — a town committee operating under the Recreation and Parks Department, appeared during Tuesday night’s Selectboard meeting, it had the potential to be nothing more than a mundane appearance. The group last month had voted to reduce the size of the proposed skatepark, largely because the group has not been able to raise enough money for the original plan, and was asking the Selectboard to support the change.
Instead, following more than an hour of debate, the Selectboard voted 3-2 to table any further discussion until its Nov. 5 meeting. But not before Chairman David Gartenstein alluded to many alternatives being open on how the board, BASIC and the community could proceed.
“This is a different board than the one that made the decision in the past,” Gartenstein said. “This is a different board than who voted over the course of the last two years. ... I continue to believe that having such a divisive atmosphere relating to this park is not a healthy way to go forward with this project. There may be merit to broadening out the decision about whether there’s going to be a park and if so, where?”
Well, that’s all well and good, but we don’t see how the board allowed the discussion to reach that point.
Instead, we concur with Skatepark committee member Spencer Crispe, who appeared before the Selectboard: “We’re not here to decide whether there’ll be a skatepark here or not. That’s already been decided. We are only here to ask permission to make it smaller.”
Let’s take a moment to reflect on how we got here ....
As the skatepark project moved along over the past four years, those in support of the project have done everything asked of them. Every time the matter was discussed at a Selectboard meeting (as far back as 2010), that’s considered a public hearing. Where were the voices of dissent, then?
Once the School Board got involved with providing the land, at least three public meetings were held.
While we will admit that the actual site selection process was not managed via a committee, once the Crowell Lot was chosen, BASIC on more than one occasion attempted to address various concerns, including altering plans in order to save “historic” trees, to shifting the actual location further back, to even this recent re-design which would have prevented playgroup structures from having to be moved.
And let’s not forget, various other sites were considered and vetoed — the West River Park (storm run-off would prohibit construction); a parking lot at the junction of Elm and Flat streets (the town didn’t want to lose parking spaces); Living Memorial Park (too far away from downtown); even the vacant Home Depot building on Putney Road (again, too far from downtown, not to mention the cost to rent or purchase the location).
And the opposition has a done a fair job expressing concern through letters to the editor, guest opinion pieces and public signage. Still, we are vexed by some of the attitudes displayed in those letters, including blaming the theft of signs on park proponents earlier this year. Or, consider this quote from an October 2012 letter: “When this site was chosen in 2010 ... I did not speak up at the time because I thought the project would not fly for lack of funds.”
Perhaps it would have been better to get together enough people to put a petition together?
Instead, for the last three-plus years, we’ve had exactly what you saw on Tuesday night: Opponents said there have not been enough public meetings on the Crowell Lot site; Supporters said there have been countless public meetings over the past three years; they said, they said ... and on and on ... with no middle ground in site.
Add our voice to that of Selectboard member John Allen, who on Tuesday asked: “What do we do, make them start all over again? I don’t think that’s fair. If we do we’re gong to run into the same problems and the same situations as we did at Memorial Park, as we did at West River Park, and all this committee wants to do is get a skateboard park built for the kids.”
While Andy Davis, who spoke on behalf of a group opposed to the skatepark, painted Tuesday night’s proceedings in a positive light (“... a closer look reveals more opportunities for creativity, and even for success of this project.”), we don’t see it quite the same.
There’s only so long people are willing to push forward, especially when they’re doing everything instructed of them. Just like a prospective business owner, tired of meeting an ongoing list of variances and regulations, the youth in the community will at some point throw in the towel, rightly convinced that a skatepark is not anything the citizens and officials of Brattleboro are interested in entertaining.
This isn’t just a lesson on skateparks. The same will be true for business (big-box or other); cell towers (Can you hear us, now?); windmills and solar arrays (an energy efficient future for others, but not us); and on and on.
So we end with a comment from Facebook, posted as a comment to our item about Tuesday’s skatepark discussion: “I haven’t lived in Brattleboro for over six years; this is still being discussed?”
Unfortunately, it would seem so.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
An interactive map, showing the potential effect of rising seas on the east coast of America, made the rounds on social media last week. Sure, some folks may have had a chuckle at the possible “ocean-front property” one day available in Brattleboro (due, we assume, to the spread of the Connecticut River far north, bisecting Massachusetts — or what’s left of it — in the process), it’s still a striking testament to what many believe to be man’s adverse affect on the planet. Last week an international climate panel met in Sweden, and one thing seemed very clear: Top scientists have a much better idea of how global warming will shape the rest of the century.
The panel also affirmed it was more confident than ever that global warming was a man-made problem ... and likely to get worse. Calling climate change “the greatest challenge of our time,” panel co-chair Thomas Stocker said humankind’s fate in the next 100 years “depends crucially on how much carbon dioxide will be emitted in the future,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes,” scientists stated in the report.
In a summary of its findings, released Friday, the panel stated: “The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased ... Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.”
(For those interested, the panel’s full 2,500-page report was published Monday.) Also of interest: The panel expects sea levels to rise globally by 10 inches to 32 inches by century’s end.
Which brings us back to the map being shared on social media. Doesn’t seem quite as humorous now, does it?
We echo the sentiments of the editorial board at The (UK) Guardian, who last weekend declared: “No more denial. Time to act on climate change.” Consider the analogy from Stephen Emmott’s recent book, “Ten Billion,” where the world’s greatest minds come together to tackle the deadly after-effects of a fictional oncoming asteroid set to impact Earth. Mankind may be facing, right now, just such a calamitous event, but is choosing to take no action, even though the consequences could be just as dire.
The Guardian editorial board writes: “(H)umanity is conducting the greatest and most important scientific experiment ever carried out — on itself. And it is doing so by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an accelerating rate.”
We agree. It’s high time our elected leaders don’t just placate our concerns with empty words, but instead work together to agree on what’s happening and what needs to be done. If not for us, for future generations.
There’s only one Earth; so, last we checked, we are all in this together.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
For more than a decade, New Hampshire enjoyed the lowest child poverty rate in the country. But, according to a new report from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, the Granite State now can claim a new best: The rate of children younger than 18 living in poverty rose from 12 percent to 15.6 percent, a rate faster than any other state from 2011 to 2012.
Some food for thought: Compared to 2007, this latest rate is 75 percent higher; Nationally, the rate was 22.6 percent — that’s 16.4 million children(!); According to these latest figures, New Hampshire now ranks 11th in the country — North Dakota has the lowest (13.15), Mississippi the highest (34.69).
“The poverty rate is still very high by historical standards,” Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told Bloomberg News. “The good news is that it is likely to decline as the economy recovers over the next decade. The bad news is that it’s unlikely to get back to its 2007 level ... until the middle of the next decade....”
The Carsey Institute’s director of research on vulnerable families, Beth Mattingly, told New Hampshire Public Radio that there’s no obvious reasons for the sudden increase.
“What demographic characteristics of our state may have changed? Are people employed less? Obviously, on average, there’s more people in poverty, but overall are people earning less? We’re going to look at the full demographic picture to see what we can figure out,” Mattingly said.
How about a little more context? Regionally, New Hampshire’s rate increase is still striking, but it places the state on par with it’s counterparts. Vermont’s and Massachusetts’ rates are at 15 percent, a small decline from the Green Mountain State’s high of 17 percent in 2010, while the Bay State seems to be holding steady. Maine has the highest (21 percent).
“These are shocking figures,” The Portland Press Herald (Maine) editorial board wrote in a recent editorial. “Behind the numbers are children without enough to eat; some without a place to live. The stress of living in poverty at such an early age can leave lifelong scars, just like the ones left by abuse. This is a problem not just for poor children and their parents, but also for our entire society. ... It often starts with a bad start in school. Children with bad nutrition, who live in disordered households and substandard housing, come to school under stress, not ready to learn. There are exceptions, but typically the poorest students fall behind and stay behind, not because they lack ability but because they are forced to cope with too much.”
Here in Vermont, we do a good job offering reduced and/or free meals to students in need, not only through the school year but the summer, too. While cuts are being made to health and human services, lawmakers continue to try and shield the state’s most vulnerable from those tough choices.
While the exact causes for New Hampshire’s troubles aren’t immediately clear, we think it’s safe to say there’s a correlation to budget cuts, especially changes in statewide “safety net programs” that pushed more families below the poverty line.
“This is a wake-up call for our state,” Ellen Fineberg, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Children’s Alliance of New Hampshire, told the Associated Press. “Children are the future health and well-being of our state.”
While the nation waits and watches to see what Washington lawmakers’ next move will be (in terms of crafting a working budget), we implore lawmakers in Vermont and the rest of the region to carefully consider any future changes and cuts to states’ budgets. The innocent cannot be forced to bear the brunt of what is sure to be a few more years of “tough decisions.”
Perhaps our colleagues at the Portland Press Herald put it best: “Young children are poor not because they lack motivation or because they made bad choices. But even though they are not to blame for their situation, they pay the price.”
Our children are our future. Making them pay the price is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Or, if you prefer: We reap what we sow.
We can all do better to battle this epidemic.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
Over the past week or so, residents, local officials and business owners in Brattleboro and Wilmington listened to presentations by the Downtown Action Team, a group of development and planning experts supported with money from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development. The group was put together to help towns and cities that were affected by Tropical Storm Irene. The results, it seemed, read like a tale of two towns. On the one hand, you have downtown Brattleboro, described as vibrant and creative, full of potential (look no further than the recently renovated Co-op and current rehabilitation of the Brooks House), with annual events like the Strolling of the Heifers and the upcoming Literary Festival bringing in visitors from throughout the region.
One of the biggest challenges facing Brattleboro is its aging population — with an average age of 45, higher than the state average (41) and much higher than the national average (36.8) — and declining population.
“The door has opened now for additional development to happen and additional retail to thrive in the downtown area,” Project Manager Tripp Muldrow said. “But it means that you have to have a concerted effort and organized effort to do that.”
Meanwhile, over in Wilmington you have a town the team complimented for its ongoing renovative, revitalization and beautification efforts.
Of all the other towns the team worked with, Wilmington had the second lowest amount of local traffic in its stores. Only 12 percent of the sales came from local consumers, including Dover and Whitingham. (Of course, it was also acknowledged that one in every four houses is a locally-owned or lived-in house, therefore three out of that four are owned by a second home owner or rented out.) Muldrow suggested that new businesses in the future should perhaps look to satisfy more of the local consumers’ needs, which segued into a recommendation that called for building on commerce with home furnishing, office supplies, dining, outdoors and “exploring missing pieces and niches.”
Two towns, two different sets of positive building blocks and challenges.
In both cases, we hardly think the results were revelatory in nature, but then again that may not quite have been the point. By walking around Brattleboro, and later Wilmington, talking to and meeting with local merchants, officials and property owners, the Downtown Action Team was able to put into words what many residents have know for some time. But the team also created a plan of action behind those words.
We’re all in this together. Banding together regionally, as the bigger project behind the Downtown Action Team’s work means to do, can only help southern Vermont grow and develop. Flourishing local businesses at all corners of Windham County will improve the local economy and bring in younger residents looking to join (or grow) the workforce.
We believe these meetings are a good first step, but conversation can’t simply beget more conversation: plans of action need to be crafted, debated and enacted swiftly. As the old axiom goes, why put off to tomorrow ....
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
On Wednesday, President Obama told reporters that international credibility is on the line in regard to how the world chooses to respond to the “reported” use of chemical weapons in Syria.
“My credibility is not on the line,” Obama said during a press conference in Sweden, as reported by USA Today. “International credibility is on the line. ... The question is, how credible is the international community when it says this is an international norm that has to be observed? The question is how credible is Congress when it passes a treaty saying we have to forbid the use of chemical weapons?” A few hours later, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to authorize the president to use limited force against Syria. According to a USA Today report, “The Senate resolution would limit hostilities to 60 or 90 days, narrow the conflict to Syria’s borders and prohibit U.S. troops on Syrian soil.”
While any immediate action still seems a few weeks away, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has already stepped up its rhetoric to defend itself and take “every measure” to respond to an attack from the U.S.
“The Syrian government will not change position even if there is World War III,” Faisal Muqdad, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, told AFP as reported by news outlet Al Arabiya. “Syria has taken every measure to retaliate against ... an aggression,” he added, though he refused to offer any clarification on what that might mean.
Consider a recent report from CNN, which quoted Secretary of State John Kerry (”beyond any reasonable doubt”), Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (”very clear”) and Pres. Obama (“high confidence”) on the suspected use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Britain, France and Germany have backed the U.S.’s claims. However, British Parliament voted against allowing Prime Minister David Cameron to commit forces to the strike. And “French President François Hollande and German President Joachim Gauck used a joint news conference in Paris to call for action against Syria, even as France remained the lone European country willing to carry out military strikes as part of a possible coalition with Washington,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
Still troubling, as the CNN report points out, is that “A declassified report by the White House does not divulge all details of the evidence the United States is looking at. And it remains unclear what the ‘streams of intelligence’ cited in the report may be and how they were collected.”
That just doesn’t sit well with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who on Wednesday said the West’s case against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Instead, he told the Associated Press that his country is “developing a plan of action in case the United States does attack Syria without United Nations approval, but he declined to go into specifics.”
Putin also said that if the U.S. and its allies could provide sufficient evidence that Assad’s forces carried out a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 in a Damascus suburb, Russia would consider allowing United Nations action against Syria.
It seems President Bush’s case for action against Iraq, in 2003, is still fresh on everyone’s minds. Then, evidence was presented at the United Nations to show Saddam Hussein was looking to create weapons of mass destruction, as well as strong links to the country’s leadership and al-Qaeda, much of which was later disproved by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency.
The proof should be clearly laid out for all Washington lawmakers; It should be clearly communicated to Americans and the rest of the world. Only then, should a clear mission, with the backing of most if not all of our allies, be undertaken. Anything short of that is sure to have negative repercussions, not only on Syria and the rest of that region, but on the U.S. and its increasingly dimming luster in the eyes of the world.
Consider this: In a report for news website Mother Jones, reporter Kevin Drum quotes liberal writer Paul Waldman, who recently pointed out that the U.S. has launched “a significant overseas assault every 40 months since 1963.”
“Too many Americans have a seriously blinkered view of our interventions overseas, viewing them as one-offs to be evaluated on their individual merits,” Drum writes. “But when these things happen once every three years, against a backdrop of almost continuous smallerscale military action ... the rest of the world just doesn’t see it that way.”
While we still strongly believe that U.S. response against Syria is the wrong move to make, we do believe the president is going about making his case the right way. By earning lawmakers (and, hopefully, the American people’s) approval, as well as that of key allies abroad, this doesn’t have to be yet another solo action by a bully nation. There’s still much to hash out, in the meantime, but we’re willing to hold out hope that another war in the Middle East isn’t just the latest foregone conclusion.