Gov. James Douglas and Natural Resources Sec. George Crombie announced an important initiative late last week to consider ways to restore and revitalize the state park system. The first step in that hoped-for outcome is to create a 20-member commission to craft a game plan.
Win Smith, president of Sugarbush Resort in Warren, and Tom Hark, founding president of the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, are the chairman and vice-chairman respectively. Their recommendations to the governor are to be delivered by Jan. 31, 2008. One of the interesting early suggestions made by the governor and Human Resources Sec. Cynthia LaWare is to offer employment of some of the state’s young and underemployed residents.
“The governor and I recognize that every Vermonter has unique talents and deserves the chance for meaningful employment,” LaWare said. “Just as the Vermont economy will require every qualified job seeker to meet the needs of the business community, Vermont State Parks will need to utilize every available individual to help in this rebuilding effort.”
From the nation’s military point of view, according to one military intelligence official who spoke anonymously to the press corps, even a veto-proof congressional majority elected in 2008 is unlikely to demand a full, immediate military withdrawal from Iraq. Instead, any withdrawal will be staggered to preserve the most stable situation possible in the hopes of preventing internal chaos. The military’s best possible scenario, as this official forecast, is to “get (Iraq) as stable as we can, with the troops we have, and in the time available. And then, we’ll back out as carefully as we can.”
In a slick move, the Bush administration has usurped Congress’ ability to write into law regulations to protect the public. The move came this week via an executive order that directed all federal agencies to brief the White House before any agency directive went into effect if the regulations had an economic impact of more than $100 million annually. The directive also puts a White House appointee as the gatekeeper over agencies that regulate domestic laws pertaining to public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.
“The executive order allows the political staff at the White House to dictate decisions on health and safety issues, even if the government’s own impartial experts disagree,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “This is a terrible way to govern, but great news for special interests.”
This past Tuesday the federal minimum wage was raised for the first time in a decade. Workers who had been earning just $5.15 per hour will see their pay jump 70 cents to $5.85. That’s meager progress, but the law enacted for this year’s wage increase also stipulated jumps of 70 cents per hour for the next two summers to follow — meaning the wage will go to $6.55 in 2008 and $7.25 in 2009. But is it enough?
A little math helps put the numbers in perspective: Someone earning $5.15 per hour and working a 40-hour week pulls in $10,712 per year; at $5.85 per hour, they’ll earn $12,168 annually; at $6.55, they’ll earn $13,624; and at $7.25, they’ll make $15,080. The net effect of the legislation, therefore, is an effective increase for minimum wage earners of $4,368 annually — a significant amount of money and huge percentage increase.
For the past four years, many Americans have watched in disbelief as the Bush administration has led this nation into war with Iraq under false pretenses, scared the public with lame threats of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, waved the flag of patriotism in times of political need (rather than national unity), and has changed the terms of engagement in Iraq. All of this has been done to suit the political needs of this president. This past weekend Bush was at it again — going on a surprise photo-op and propaganda blitz in Iraq to build support for continuing his failed policy.
The question Americans must ask themselves is plain: When are they going to demand an honest accounting and assessment of the war effort and consequent action that puts the needs of the nation ahead of domestic politics?
In a recent column in The New York Times, Paul Krugman poses a question that is less cynical and more sincere than it might at first appeal. “Future historians will, without doubt, see Katrina as a turning point,” he wrote. “The question is whether it will be seen as the moment when America remembered the importance of good government, or the moment when neglect and obliviousness to the needs of others became the new American way.”
In the past, such a cynical question could be answered positively with confidence. Today, unfortunately, the answer to that question is a matter of national soul-searching.
Just what kind of a country are we? Under this administration, policies have routinely and continuously passed that hurt the poor and favor the wealthy; they have benefited industry at the expense of our environment; they’ve worked to break down the public school system; have eroded our national infrastructure; depleted the nation’s armed forces and discredited the nation’s foreign policy on the world stage.
Thereâ€™s good news in Vermontâ€™s ski industry, and then thereâ€™s the weather.
The good news is that Vermontâ€™s 18 ski resorts invested more than $25 million in upgrades and new facilities in 2006, and another $150 million was invested in real estate projects and recreational amenities. That substantial investment, however, runs headlong into another bit of news: November 2006 was one of the warmest on record and tied the record for having the least amount of snowfall.
Such enormous investments and such fickle weather remind ski diehards that ski resorts in Vermont, much like the farming community, ride a fine edge on the profitability slope. The ski industry, in fact, has much in common with Vermontâ€™s farm community. An area ski area resort president even noted that ski resorts could be viewed as â€œsnow farmers.â€?
In the big scheme of things, Vermont Electric Power Companyâ€™s project to string up a new set of 345Kv transmission lines through Addison County could have been delayed another year or two without (in all likelihood) depriving consumers of an adequate supply of power. It certainly seems reasonable, therefore, to ask VELCO to work around a Middlebury Christmas tree farm during the farmâ€™s peak season between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
To proceed with the erection of gigantic poles within the next two or three weeks, when it means that the poles would be placed right in the midst of the Werner tree farm (see story Page 1), seems like a slap in the face to a fellow Vermont business. Itâ€™s almost an affront that VELCO wouldnâ€™t have foreseen the dilemma earlier and made the overture to avoid work there for this one five-week period.