Archive - Apr 17, 2006
The moment after President Bush made his announcement that Judge John G. Roberts would be his first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, the special interest groups swung into action. Conservative groups hailed the nomination in stellar terms. Special interest groups on the left chastised the nominee in equally dire language. The battle lines were being drawn.
But rather than jump into the melee, letâ€™s all relax, step back a pace, breathe. Perhaps the extra oxygen will help Americans think objectively and read a bit about the nominee on their own.
Part of the problem in todayâ€™s extremely partisan environment is that Americans are saturated with instantaneous and biased views that seek to distort the facts and push an agenda. The aim is clear: Left-wing outfits want to raise anxiety among their supporters in the hopes of raising contributions to battle the conservatives. Right-wingers are praising the candidate in the blind faith that Bush has followed through on his word. Why? Because Bushâ€™s team knows they need to keep conservative voters satisfied, and allowing the perception that Roberts might be a moderate or even a moderate conservative would leave the base softer in a trying time for a president whoâ€™s popularity ratings are low and falling lower.
â€œThe (drug) problem is getting worse, not better. Itâ€™s only a matter of time before we have our first adolescent fatality.â€?
The comment was made by Robert Thorn, executive director of the Counseling Service of Addison County. He should know. As head of a county agency on the front lines of drug abuse and the personal crises that inevitably follow, Thorn has been watching the developing drug scene in Addison County from his front-row seat. So have Jim Hulfish, director of adult out-patient services for CSAC, and Ken Schoen, an adolescent substance abuse clinician with CSAC. All three tell a similar story in the lead article of todayâ€™s second installment in a two-part series on drug abuse published in this newspaper.
The national poverty rate rose to 12.7 percent of the population, according to statistics released earlier this week. The increase of 1.1 million Americans living in poverty, bringing the total to 37 million, marked the fourth straight annual increase (from 2001-2004). The Census Bureau also said household income remained flat, while another 800,000 Americans are now without health insurance.
Close to a third of those living in poverty are children.
The numbers have been rising steadily. The last decline in the nationâ€™s poverty rate was under President Bill Clinton in 2000. Since then, the number of Americans living in poverty has jumped from 31.1 million people to 37 million. The poverty threshold for a family of four for 2004 was set at $19,307 or less, and at $12,334 or less for a family of two.
A Senate bill that would cap the size of big-box stores at 50,000 square feet in every community in the state offers a compelling solution to the big-box store angst many towns face when a big box store files a permit to build. The bill goes a bit too far, however, in making the restrictions too onerous, and heavy-handed. With a few modifications, however, the existing bill can become a mechanism that gives communities the control that should have always been theirs, and, as a bonus, the initiative creates an exciting national marketing campaign for the state.
The bill, as currently drafted, includes these provisions:
Talk about the pot calling the kettle scorched.Â When Vice President Dick Cheney said that Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean was â€œover the topâ€? in his recent remarks about Republicans, is it possible the vice-president had forgotten his unprecedented bout of swearing at Sen. Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor?
The state of Vermont is forcing a potential crisis on the stateâ€™s 12 nonprofit home health providers that is puzzling and suspect. At issue is a demand by John Crowley, commissioner of Vermontâ€™s Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration (BISHCA), for home health providers to prove they are serving 100 percent of the state market by July 9. If they canâ€™t, Crowley says he will break the current state-imposed monopoly and allow a private firm to complete for the Medicare and Medicaid patients they serve.
The puzzling aspect of the forced crisis is the timing. Why Crowley has set such a tight deadline is unknown and makes little sense. Vermontâ€™s home health care providers have operated under the current system for numerous years and have an outstanding record of serving a high percentage of Vermonters at a low per-capita cost. According to state figures for 2002, Vermontâ€™s 12 home health centers served 108 Medicare patients per 1,000 residents, compared to 86 per 1,000 in New England and 61 per 1,000 nationally. The average cost per visit was $76 in 2002, compared to $102 nationally. And, because the home health centers operate on a break-even basis, they require no taxpayer subsidy.
The rising cost of health care insurance is no longer an academic, or political, discussion. The crux of the issue is economic and the need for a resolution is immediate.
Health insurance costs soared by double-digit increases again this year, taking a typical family policy at the Addison Independent with MVP from roughly $9,800 per year to more than $11,000. If the employer splits the cost 50-50 (and more and more employers simply arenâ€™t offering the coverage) the cost is still a staggering $5,500 per employee; and the employee struggles to meet that $5,500 annual expense. As someone once said, â€œa thousand here, a thousand there, and pretty soon youâ€™re talking about real money.â€?
In Montpelier last week, the Douglas administration was trying to explain away an apparent flip-flop on an issue that one might think was close to the governor's heart: open meetings and access to public records. The governor, after all, was Secretary of State for a good number of years during which he ardently supported the rights of citizens and the press to gain easy access to government meetings and records. Â The right of the people to know the truth about government actions, as the governor and most Vermonters know, is one of the most fundamental principles of a free society.
It was odd, then, that at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on March 17, Assistant Attorney General Bill Reynolds spoke against access to public records on behalf of the governor. Specifically, Reynolds said the governor opposed a bill, S.45, that would hold government responsible for wrongly denying access to public records or public meetings. The bill would simply change the word "may" to "shall" in terms of who should pay legal costs when the court rules for the plaintiff.