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Archive - 2008

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September 15th

Markowitz takes stock in election results, own career

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz said turnout at last Tuesday’s primary election was among the lowest ever, though she expects as much as 70 percent of the state’s 440,000 registered voters to cast ballots during the general election on Nov. 4.

Markowitz, who herself faces re-election this fall, touched upon balloting, voter education and a variety of other topics during an interview at the Addison Independent on Thursday. Markowitz also acknowledged that after 10 years in office, this may be her final bid for secretary of state.

While the results were not yet official as of late last week, Markowitz believes the final returns will show the primary election of 2008 could reveal a historical low in terms of turnout. She cited weather and a lack of compelling races as reasons why most people chose not to vote.

Indeed only the Democrats’ ballot featured statewide primary races — for congressional representative and lieutenant governor. There were no races on the Republican, Progressive and Liberty Union ballots.

“Generally speaking, turnout gets driven by the top of the ticket, and there just wasn’t anything there,” Markowitz said. “It’s not surprising that people stayed home. On top of it, we had thunderstorms during the prime voting times before work, and so people said, ‘Do I want to brave the lightning for a ballot where there is no contested races?’”

But Markowitz stressed she believes democracy is alive and well in Vermont, in spite of the low primary turnout.

“We still believe that November is going to be a very busy election,” Markowitz said. “There is unprecedented interest in the presidential race. We’re getting more new voter registration requests than we have in the past years.”

full story

Residents weigh in on future of Vergennes

By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — One hundred and fifty-four residents of Vergennes filled out the city planning commission’s municipal plan survey this summer, and they offered some results that were both useful and surprising, said planning commission chairman Neil Curtis.

Among the surprising results were the strong feelings survey respondents expressed about the “look, feel and scale” of downtown Vergennes, according to a survey summary prepared for the commission by LandWorks, the Middlebury planning firm that is helping the city with its ongoing city plan rewrite.

LandWorks concluded that the current feel of downtown was “resoundingly important” to city residents, a conclusion based on the 92.2 percent of respondents who rated preserving the downtown as either an important or a most important concern for Vergennes in the future.

Curtis noted that 77.9 percent of respondents also supported creating “design guidelines” that would help maintain the character of the city’s downtown, adding that guidelines would not include such items as types of windows or paint colors.

Curtis said the response to the downtown questions are a prime example on how the survey will help guide the members of the planning commission and LandWorks in writing the plan, a process that carries a November 2009 deadline and is roughly on schedule.

“I think it’s enormously helpful in terms of being able to help us prioritize different issues and action items the city ought to be working on,” Curtis said. “People are so attached to the look and feel of those downtown buildings ... When you get 90 percent of the survey respondents saying the downtown is important, it really crystallizes the way you look at the plan. It really is a priority.”

STRONG RESPONSE

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StoryWalk celebrates fall in Bristol with whimsical tale

By KATHRYN FLAGG

BRISTOL — Seven-year-old Sierra Barnicle ran ahead of her father, Scott, to reach the last placard in Bristol’s first StoryWalk last week, eager to reach the end of the story that marches its way, page by page, down Mountain and Spring streets between the Bristol Elementary School and the Lawrence Memorial Library.

The Weybridge residents happened upon the exhibit, on loan from the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier until Sept. 19, in a stroke of good luck. In a series of small, unassuming signposts, the “StoryWalk” depicts the children’s story “Leaves,” by David Ezra Stein.

While the family dog wagged his tail amiably, Sierra explained that she, for one, thought the StoryWalk was a great idea — and appreciated the seasonal choice of “Leaves.” Warm, pen-and-ink drawings and spare text tell the story of a very young bear’s confusion when leaves start to fall during his first autumn, and his delight when new leaves welcome him after winter’s hibernation.

It’s a charming story, beautifully executed — each page is adorned with a lovely pen-and-ink drawing and spare, quiet prose.

“I like it,” Sierra said, “because it’s welcoming fall.”

Once the after-school flurry of activity between the elementary school and the library had died down, Eva Ginalski, a third-grader at Bristol Elementary, chimed in with her own praise for the StoryWalk. Like Sierra Barnicle, Ginalski appreciated the tie to the seasons.

“It’s a good time to do it because the leaves are just starting to fall,” she said. She said she’d love to see more StoryWalks in the future — and hoped that future stories would also correspond to the seasons.

full story

September 11th

GOP: Just drink the Kool-Aid

Welcome to the Brave New World where author Aldous Huxley imagined in his 1932 satire that society would prefer to be kept uninformed and live lock-step in a soma-induced blissful oblivion. Well, close enough. The world is the political orbit of the Republican Party in which no one is allowed to speak critically of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and the media, in particular, is not to pursue questions that seek to flesh out her positions or leadership style were she to be catapulted into the nation’s highest office.

Facts in this Republican dystopia (a negative utopia) don’t matter; what matters is that supporters swallow the party script. So, if Gov. Palin wants to keep repeating the lie that she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere and rejects federal earmarks to states, then the party faithful should excuse the falsehood and just drink the soma-laced Kool-Aid.

John Feehery, a Republican strategist, captured the mood perfectly in a Washington Post story on Tuesday when he told a Post reporter that the campaign was entering a period in which the dominant themes established in the campaign were more important than skirmishes over the facts. 

“The more The New York Times and The Washington Post go after Sarah Palin, the better off she is, because there’s a bigger truth out there and the bigger truths are she’s new, she’s popular in Alaska and she is an insurgent,” Feehery said. “As long as those are out there, these little facts don’t really matter.”

Wow. Let’s think about that.

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A short-term bump versus more substantial worries

The short-term politics of picking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as vice-president on the Republican ticket are more astute than many Democrats are acknowledging. The pick has, in a moment’s notice, galvanized the religious right, brought abortion back into the spotlight, and re-energized John McCain’s candidacy for president as a maverick.

But the longer-term impact of the choice will likely undermine the confidence the American public will have in McCain’s decision-making.

If Palin’s choice as his running mate is indicative of his recklessness and willingness to gamble the nation’s security for a bump in the polls, then the American public must face the possibility that we would have another president in the White House who would rule by gut instinct, hasty and uninformed decisions, and a reluctance to fully vet an issue before making important decisions.

In choosing Palin, McCain had his first face-to-face conversation with her the day before his announcement; a time that his staff was still researching information about her past and her qualifications. On the day before making her selection public, the McCain staff found out about her 17-year-old daughter being five months pregnant — not an issue in itself, but the fact that it was unknown until the day before more than suggests that the vetting process was rushed and uninformed at the very least. Yet, McCain maintains — as Bush so often did — that the facts are not as they seem; that the contradictory evidence is just the other side making a big deal out of nothing. (It also points out the weakness of those who, like Palin, support abstinence over birth control.)

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Bubba-hood vs. intellectualism

Two undercurrents of the Republican Convention jumped from the stage so blatantly they became the white elephant in the room: the irony that the Republicans were running as a party of change, and the championing of bubba-hood over intelligence as qualifications to lead this nation.

Sen. John McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and the subsequent convention rhetoric used to promote her nomination and lash out at the Democrats with partisan rancor, showed just how far the G.O.P. has sunk in its election strategy.

In a country that used to seek “the best and the brightest” to lead our nation, Republicans recently have chosen candidates who have ranked at the bottom of their classes academically (Bush and McCain) and rely frequently on personal beliefs, rather than accepted facts or critical review of performance, to make decisions that are crucial for the nation’s future.

Bush’s appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as head of the Defense Department and his willingness to keep him in place in the face of abysmal failure and a ruinous foreign policy for the first five years of his presidency, for example, were disastrous. Similarly, his decision to ignore the evidence that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and instead invade Iraq, while taking the focus off of capturing Osama bin Laden and defeating the Taliban, has been costly and counterproductive.

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Choosing the winning storyline

If Americans believe that “we are a better country” than what we have seen for the past eight years, as Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech Thursday night, then that sense of hope will help propel him into the White House.

In what was an inspiring speech, Obama’s soaring rhetorical style encouraged Americans to dream again of a country that leads the world, not by military might, but by the force of its optimism and a promise of opportunity available to all:

“It’s a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect,” Obama said. “It’s a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

“Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves — protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology. Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who’s willing to work.

“That’s the promise of America - the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.

“That’s the promise we need to keep. That’s the change we need right now.”

But Obama’s speech wasn’t just about hope. He also asked the American people to look critically at the failure of the Bush administration over this past eight years, and not excuse that performance.

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Lunch tab goes up at area schools

By KATHRYN FLAGG

ADDISON COUNTY — The latest place to be hard hit by rising food and fuel prices?

The school cafeteria. 

As costs are driven up by shrinking student populations and hefty fuel surcharges on food deliveries, many county schools are facing increasingly large deficits in their hot lunch programs — prompting several to hike prices this year from seven to 15 percent.

For the parents of the roughly 51 percent of all schoolchildren who eat hot lunch on any given day, those increased prices add up.

“The (school) boards have been briefed that this is seriously a belt-tightening year,” said Greg Burdick, the business manager for the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union (ANeSU). Five of the district’s six schools saw lunch price increases this year. “The boards all know that it’s going to be a tough year for hot lunch and a tough year for our budget.”

Burdick said that he didn’t know if price increases were any steeper this year than they’d been in the past — but he did say that increases weren’t as “spotty” as they had been in previous years, when they typically occurred at just one or two schools a year.

But even increased prices cannot fully “true” the mounting hot lunch program deficits facing some local schools — deficits that could creep as high as an estimated $70,000 at Bristol’s Mount Abraham Union High School. Mount Abe raised school lunch prices 40 cents to $3.

Outside of the ANeSU, other schools in the county have seen prices rise this year as well.

At Middlebury Union High School, lunch prices are up a quarter to $2.25 per meal. Vergennes Union High School saw prices increase from $1.75 to $2.

BRIDGING THE GAP

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