Vermont

Vermont finding it tough to meet green goals

Here, in Vernon, on the Connecticut River, is the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which was shut down in 2014. Vermont had for many years the highest rate of nuclear-generated electric power in America — at almost 75 percent. Vermont is one of only two states with no    coal-fired power plants   .

Here, in Vernon, on the Connecticut River, is the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which was shut down in 2014. Vermont had for many years the highest rate of nuclear-generated electric power in America — at almost 75 percent. Vermont is one of only two states with no coal-fired power plants.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “DIgital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

A Jan. 28 story in The Boston Globe, “In Vermont, a progressive haven, emissions spike forces officials to consider drastic action,’’ contained some irony: The Green Mountain State, long associated with environmentalism and progressive politics in general, has failed by a long shot to meet its stated aims of slashing carbon emissions. Indeed, these emissions have risen 16 percent from 1990!

Part of the challenge is the high percentage of ownership of aging, energy-inefficient pickup trucks, which, as in many mostly rural states, are sort of the official state vehicle. Further, cheap gasoline during the past few years has encouraged even more driving in a state whose residents are accustomed to traveling long distances every day.

Another problem in the heavily forested state is the heavy use of wood as fuel for heating. You can see smog in some river valleys from the many wood stores and furnaces. (I remember back when I lived in the Upper Connecticut Valley in the late ‘60s that wood (a carbon-based fuel!) was promoted as the wonderfully natural way to help wean ourselves off that nasty Arab oil.)

And while transportation is the largest single source of emissions – 43 percent – the closing of Vermont’s only nuclear-power, in 2014, made the state more dependent on fossil-fuel power plants. Global warming may make promoting nuclear power easier.

The administration of Gov. Phil Scott, a moderate Republican whom I’ve met and like, has come up with a detailed program to cut admissions, which includes, The Globe reports:

“{P}rograms to help improve energy efficiency in homes, financial incentives for electric vehicles, and protections for the state’s forests, which are in decline for the first time in a century.’’

In any event, it will take a long time for The Green Mountain State to get as
“green’’ as the rest of the country might think it is.

To read The Globe’s story, please hit this link.



'Mysterious core of life'

Town meeting in Huntington, Vt.

Town meeting in Huntington, Vt.

“Vermont tradition is based on the idea that group life should leave each person as free as possible to arrange his own life. This freedom is the only climate in which (we feel) a human being may create his own happiness. ... Character itself lies deep and secret below the surface, unknown and unknowable by others. It is the mysterious core of life, which every man or woman has to cope with alone, to live with, to conquer and put in order, or to be defeated by.’’

— Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1879-1958), American writer and education reformer

Feds say no to Mass. attempts to negotiate for cheaper drugs

The Massachusetts State House, with its famous gold dome.

The Massachusetts State House, with its famous gold dome.

By MARTHA BEBINGER

For Kaiser Health News

States serve as “laboratories of democracy,” as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said. And states are also labs for health policy, launching all kinds of experiments lately to temper spending on pharmaceuticals.

No wonder. Drugs are among the fastest-rising health-care costs for many consumers and are a key reason that health-care spending dominates many state budgets — crowding out roads, schools and other priorities.

Consider Vermont, California and Oregon, states that are beginning to implement drug-price transparency laws. In Nevada, the push for transparency includes the markup charged by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). In May, Louisiana joined a growing list of states banning “gag rules” that prevent pharmacists from discussing drug prices with patients.

State-based experiments may carry even greater weight for Medicaid, the federal-state partnership that covers roughly 75 million low-income or disabled Americans.

Ohio is targeting the fees charged to its Medicaid program by PBMs. New York has established a Medicaid spending drug cap. In late June, Oklahoma’s Medicaid program was approved by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to begin “value-based purchasing” for some newer, more expensive drugs: When drugs don’t work, the state would pay less for them.

But around the same time, CMS denied a proposal from Massachusetts that was seen as the boldest attempt yet to control Medicaid drug spending.

Massachusetts planned to exclude expensive drugs that weren’t proven to work better than existing alternatives. The state said Medicaid drug spending had doubled in five years. Massachusetts wanted to negotiate prices for about 1 percent of the highest-priced drugs and stop covering some of them. CMS rejected the proposal without much explanation, beyond saying Massachusetts couldn’t do what it wanted and continue to receive the deep discounts drugmakers are required by law to give state Medicaid programs.

The Medicaid discounts were established in 1990 law based on a grand bargain that drugmakers say guaranteed coverage of all medicines approved by the Food and Drug Administration in exchange for favorable prices.

The New England Journal of Medicine dives into the CMS decision regarding Massachusetts and its implications for other state Medicaid programs in a commentary by Rachel Sachs, an associate professor of law at Washington University, in St. Louis, and co-author Nicholas Bagley. They dispute the Trump administration’s claim that Massachusetts’ plan would violate the grand bargain.

We talked with Sachs about Massachusetts’s proposal and the implications for the rest of the country. Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why do you think states, such as Massachusetts, should be allowed to exclude some drugs, a move the pharmaceutical industry has said would break the deal reached back in 1990?

In our view, there’s a way to frame it where the bargain has been broken and Massachusetts is simply trying to restore the balance. The problem is that the meaning of FDA approval has changed significantly over the last almost 30 years. Now we have a lot more drugs that are being approved more quickly, on the basis of less evidence — smaller trials, using surrogate endpoints — where the state has real questions about whether these drugs work at all, not only whether they are good value for the money.

Q: You suggest that Massachusetts could make a reasonable case if it chose to challenge the CMS denial. How?

CMS did not explain why it didn’t grant Massachusetts’ waiver. It needs to give reasons for denying something that Massachusetts, in our view, has the legal ability to do. CMS’ failure to give reasons in this case resembles their failure to give reasons in a number of other cases that have recently led courts to strike down actions by the Trump administration for failure to explain the actions that they were taking.

(Note: A spokeswoman for Health and Human Services in Massachusetts says the state is not going to challenge the CMS decision.)

Q: While CMS blocked the Massachusetts experiment, it has approved the value-based purchasing plan in Oklahoma, and New York has capped its Medicaid drug spending. Aren’t those signs of flexibility for states?

In some ways, yes, and in other ways, no. New York passed a cap on state Medicaid pharmaceutical spending. But once the state hits that cap, it doesn’t mean the state will stop paying for prescription drugs. It just means the state is empowered to negotiate with some of these companies and seek additional discounts. They didn’t need CMS approval for this. New York doesn’t have the ability to say “If you don’t take this deal, we’re not going to cover this product.”

Oklahoma is pursuing outcomes-based pricing, which is of interest. It’s the first state to express interest in doing so. However, there are a lot of observers who are skeptical that outcomes agreements of this kind will materially lower prices or if they just provide companies cover to charge higher prices in the first instance.

Q: So what options do you see ahead for states given what happened in Massachusetts with the Medicaid waiver?

Unfortunately, states are quite limited in what they’re able to do on their own, in terms of controlling prescription drug costs — both costs that are borne by the state in its capacity as a public employer and its capacity as an insurer for the Medicaid population. and then more generally for the many citizens who are on private insurance plans throughout the state.

This is a real problem, this concern of federal pre-emption where states’ ability to go beyond federal law is often limited. So what we’re seeing now is more states like Massachusetts and Vermont taking action that forces the federal government to do something or say something. States are increasingly putting pressure on the federal government because they know that their ability to act on this problem of drug pricing is limited.

This story is part of a partnership that includes WBUR, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

'Street art' in rich Manchester

“Coastal Bowl, Night Sky’’ (detail), by Matt Seasholtz, in the current show “Thriving Spaces: Street Art Meets Glass,’’ at the Southern Vermont Arts Center, Manchester.    The gallery says the show includes “never-before-seen works of glass and street art created for this unique exhibit.’’

“Coastal Bowl, Night Sky’’ (detail), by Matt Seasholtz, in the current show “Thriving Spaces: Street Art Meets Glass,’’ at the Southern Vermont Arts Center, Manchester.

The gallery says the show includes “never-before-seen works of glass and street art created for this unique exhibit.’’

Hildene, the estate of Robert Todd Lincoln.

Hildene, the estate of Robert Todd Lincoln.

Manchester is an affluent resort and second-home town in the southwestern part of the Green Mountain State, well known for hosting such high-end retailing as Orvis, the fishing-gear company. Departed industries include iron mines, marble quarries, mills, lumber companies and sheep for the burgeoning New England woolen business of the 19th Century.

Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s son, helped Manchester famous by building Hildene, his grand country place, now a museum. He was drawn to the town by the gorgeous countryside and the grand Equinox House hotel, which is still there.

The Equinox House.

The Equinox House.

“View of Manchester, Vermont,”   by DeWitt Clinton Boutelle (1870)

“View of Manchester, Vermont,” by DeWitt Clinton Boutelle (1870)


Have a nice day, or not

"Vermonters are not only charmless of manner, on the whole; they are also, as far as I can judge, utterly without pretense, and give the salutary impression that they don't care ten cents whether you are amused, affronted, intrigued, or bored stiff by them. Hardly anybody asked me how I liked Vermont. Not a soul said 'Have a nice day!''

-- Jan Morris, the British travel writer

'Almost beggered themselves to serve others'

Mt. Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak, at 4,395 feet.

Mt. Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak, at 4,395 feet.

"Vermont is a state I love.

I could not look upon the peaks of Ascutney, Killington, Mansfield and Equinox without being moved in a way that no other scene could move me.

It was here that I first saw the light of day; here I received my bride; here my dead lie pillowed on the loving breast of our everlasting hills.

I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all, because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the union and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.''

-- President Calvin Coolidge, a Vermont native who later became Massachusetts governor, speaking on Sept. 21, 1928.

Carolyn Morwick: It was supposed to be a quiet year in Vt. Legislature...

The Vermont State House, in Montpelier -- the smallest state capital, with only about 7,900 residents.

The Vermont State House, in Montpelier -- the smallest state capital, with only about 7,900 residents.

From The New England Journal of Higher Education, a unit of The New England Board of Higher education (nebhe.org.)

From January to April, there appeared to be an unusual degree of cooperation among legislators and newly elected Vermont Gov. Phil Scott. The House and Senate passed a budget with minor differences. Up until this point, some legislators were characterizing the session as “boring.” All that changed on April 20, when Governor Scott proposed that the Legislature adopt the Vermont School Boards Association’s plan for a statewide teachers’ health-insurance proposal that would save Vermont taxpayers $26 million. Scott campaigned in earnest for his proposal and told legislators that he would veto their budget, which included their version of a teachers’ health insurance savings proposal.

No headway was made despite several meetings between the governor and legislative leaders. In the early morning hours of May 19, a budget was passed and the Legislature adjourned.

As he had promised, Scott vetoed the state budget and a bill for setting property-tax rates. Lawmakers returned to the capitol on June 21 for a special session where the budget stalemate was finally broken. A compromise was achieved which required school districts to find $13 million in savings and create a commission to study a statewide teachers’ healthcare plan. The $13 million will come from school budgets that voters have already passed. Rep David Sharpe, chairman of the House Education Committee, noted that insurance premiums are expected to drop by $75 million next year, giving school districts some leverage to negotiate plans for their employees while saving money.

On June 28, Scott signed the Fiscal 2018 budget, which does not raise taxes or fees, including property taxes. The budget includes a $35 million bond for housing, which state officials expect to generate $100 million investment in affordable housing.

On July 21, Scott and legislators learned that revenue for the FY18 base operating budget would be short by $28 million. A rescission plan to cut $12.6 million from the budget was proposed by Scott and approved by the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee.

Legislation Passed, Signed Into Law

Immigration

SB. 79 An Act Relating to Freedom From Compulsory Collection of Personal information

Prohibits Vermont officials from sharing information with the federal government that would be used to establish a registry based on religion, immigration status or any other personal characteristics.

Retirement Plan

SB.98 An Act Relating to the Public Retirement Study Committee

Creates the Green Mountain Secure Retirement Plan—voluntary retirement option for employers with 50 or fewer employees, none of whom have a retirement plan.

Economic Development

SB. 135 An Act Relating to Promoting Economic Development

Improves the Employment Incentive Growth Program. Lifts the cap on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Districts and adds additional TIF districts.

Oversight of Race, Criminal Justice

HB. 308 An Act Relating to the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel

Voids any aspect of the Vermont fair and impartial policing policy that would conflict with federal law, requires all police agencies to adopt every part of the revised policy. The legislation also sets up a panel to make recommendations about how to reduce racial disparities in Vermont’s criminal and juvenile justice system.

Mental Health for Minors

HB 230 An Act Relating to Consent by Minors for Mental Health Treatment

Allows LGBTQ teens to seek counseling to discuss their sexual orientation without their parents’ approval.

Legislation That Failed

Marijuana

SB. 22 An Act Relating to Eliminating Penalties for Possession of Limited Amounts of Marijuana by Adults 21 Years of Age and Older

A last-minute compromise passed by lawmakers legalized the recreational use of marijuana. The governor subsequently vetoed the measure. Other states have approved similar measures by ballot questions including Maine and Massachusetts.

K-12 Funding

Scott proposed freezing funding for K-12 budgets.

Higher Education Funding

According to Patricia Coates, of Vermont State Colleges, the system’s FY18 budget ends several years of budgets stressed by low state support, a decline in the number of Vermont high school graduates, increased competition from New England and northeastern regional colleges through tuition discounting, and increases in health insurance costs. This year, Vermont college presidents submitted budgets that reflected strategic management of resources, which resulted in a balanced VSCS budget that realizes savings through a new, systemwide approach to business processes.

The fiscal year 2018 budget was buttressed by several significant initiatives:

A $3 million increase in the base appropriation from the state

$880,000 in state support for the unification of Johnson State College and Lyndon State College into Northern Vermont University, which followed $770,000 in FY17

$1 million in savings consolidating the administrations of Johnson and Lyndon in FY18

$2.6 million from a major debt refinancing and restructuring

Over $1 million in savings from business process efficiencies, benefit changes and spending reductions.

Carolyn Morwick directs government and community relations at NEBHE and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures. .

 

 

 

Vermont's nostalgia problem

In Vermont's Green Mountains.    -- Photo by Joe Calzarette

In Vermont's Green Mountains.

-- Photo by Joe Calzarette

"Where I live, in Vermont, there's this thing that women know about men, which is this disease: their childhood was so idyllic that nothing in the rest of their life can ever be satisfying. It's almost a plague.''

-- Colin Trevorrow, film director and screenwriter who lives in Vermont

 

Mass. and N.H. top US News's "Best States'' rankings, winter and all

 

Apple orchard in Hollis, N.H. New England winters help keep out the worst bugs and tropical diseases.

Apple orchard in Hollis, N.H. New England winters help keep out the worst bugs and tropical diseases.

Adapted from an item in Robert Whitcomb's 'Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com:

Yet again, after many decades of Sun Belt hype, we have another measure of how the generally northern and mostly Blue States are, by important metrics, the best states to live in. That’s largely because of their tradition of strong education and infrastructure. US News & World Report’s first ranking of the best states list in the top 10: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Washington State, Iowa, Utah, Maryland, Colorado and Vermont. (Connecticut was 12th, Maine 18th and Rhode Island 21st.)

The publication said:

“Some states shine in health care. Some soar in education. Some excel in both – or in much more. The Best States ranking …draws on thousands of data points to measure how well states are performing for their citizens. In addition to health care and education, the metrics take into account a state’s economy, the opportunity it offers people, its roads, bridges, Internet and other infrastructure, its public safety and the integrity and health of state government.

“More weight was accorded to some state measures than others, based on a survey of what matters most to people. Health care and education were weighted most heavily. Then came the opportunity states offer their citizens, their crime & corrections and infrastructure. State economies followed closely in weighting, followed by measures of government administration. This explains why Massachusetts, ranking No. 1 in education and No. 2 in health care, occupies the overall No. 1 spot in the Best States rankings. And it explains why New Hampshire, ranking No. 1 in opportunity for its citizens, ranks No. 2 overall in the Best States rankings.’’

The low-tax (except for their regressive sales taxes) low-public-service Red States in the South generally did very poorly.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican and a very able executive who’s expected to run for re-election next year, said:         

“We have a lot of really smart people, we have a lot of great schools. That has led to a whole series of terrific what I would call ‘ecosystems’ around technology and health care and finance and education. And you put it all together, and in this day and age, in this kind of global economy and global world we live in, it’s a terrific mix.” Of course, Massachusetts has had some great institutions since the 17th Century; it had a running start.

Mr. Baker will probably get some credit for the ranking, but the essentials of the Bay State’s health have been in place for a long time.  Governors and U.S. presidents have remarkably little impact on the economic health of their jurisdictions;  there are far too many variables.

As for New Hampshire, it has the overwash of wealth from the very rich Greater Boston area, the Granite State’s good public education, political integrity, local  and state civic-mindedness, a tradition of  having many well-run small and medium-size companies and industrial craftsmanship. And as  befits a state that is mostly suburban, exurban and rural,  lower taxes than Massachusetts’s.

US News folks did note that Massachusetts, despite of, or because of, its very low unemployment rate, had too little “affordable housing’’ (whatever that means exactly) and very wide income inequality. But the latter is due largely to the vast wealth collected by the senior execs and shareholders of very successful enterprises founded in, based in or with major operations in the Bay State and the large number of well paidvphysicians, engineers, financial-services honchos and other very highly skilled professionals.

Another advantage of New England: It's so far north that tropical diseases rarely make it to the region. There are some advantages to having the cool snap we call "winter.''

Vermont trying all-payer healthcare system to curb costs, improve care

Vermont's state seal, in a stained-glass window in the State House, in Montpelier.

Vermont's state seal, in a stained-glass window in the State House, in Montpelier.

Governing magazine has looked at Vermont’s development of  an all-payer healthcare system.

In this approach, the publication says,  ”{i}nstead of billing doctors for each service they provide, insurers in Vermont will now give them a fixed sum each month, along with bonuses for keeping patients healthy. (Doctors can also pay penalties for adverse health effects, like having a high number of patients getting readmitted to the hospital within 30 days.) The hope is to eliminate unnecessary procedures, reduce costs and elicit more positive health outcomes.”

“In the 1970s, a dozen or so states tried all-payer systems for their hospitals. Except for Maryland, they all eventually shifted back to the standard fee-for-service because there was little evidence that all-payer was actually reducing overall health-care spending.”

“All of those states, however, only applied all-payer to hospitals — leaving out a large portion of health-care providers and limiting its potential impact.”

“Vermont’s system will cover all providers — hospitals, primary care, specialists, urgent care clinics, you name it. And instead of the state paying the providers their monthly fixed sum, it will be up to accountable care organizations (ACOs), which are groups of providers that have the same goals as all-payer: to reduce spending by rewarding better, not more, care.”

But there will be big challenges to making this work.

To read the Governing piece, 

This item first ran in the Web site of Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com).

 

Jane A. Difley/John D. Judge: Time to bury the huge Northern Pass power project

In the White Mountain National Forest.

In the White Mountain National Forest.

It’s time for the out-of-state and out-of-country interests pushing the current Northern Pass proposal to bury the private transmission line along appropriately designated transportation corridors. A similar project in Vermont shows that it can be done.

The fast-track toward approval of the 154-mile New England Clean Power Link, which recently received a Presidential Permit from the U.S. Department of Energy, highlights the benefits of burying transmission lines along state highways. That project has leapfrogged Northern Pass in the quest for permitting by using 56 miles of existing road rights-of-way and running along the floor of Lake Champlain. It would serve the same purpose as Northern Pass by enabling Canadian hydropower generators to market more energy to southern New England.

In terms of scenic degradation, vulnerability to catastrophic weather events and alteration of prized public lands, Northern Pass has it all wrong. Perhaps that’s why, six years since its proposal went public, the opposition to Northern Pass among New Hampshire residents is stronger than ever.

New Hampshire’s citizens know  that Northern Pass as proposed is a wrong-headed project and that its more than 1,000 steel towers across 192 miles would destroy the state’s lifeblood: the iconic scenic views that draw millions of visitors to the state’s mountains and forests, feeding our tourism-dependent economy. Furthermore, Northern Pass is wholly incompatible with such conservation gems as the White Mountain National Forest and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, both of which would be hurt.

New Hampshire’s people know that it is wrong to have our scenic beauty and environmental legacy sacrificed for the money-making interests of private power producers.

At public meetings and hearings, and in written testimony, the public has spoken out against this damaging and unnecessary project. Thirty-one  towns that would be  affected have voted to oppose it.

The U.S. Department of Energy has received more than 7,500 comments, largely negative, about Northern Pass. Given that public push-back, the DOE is studying no fewer than 24 alternatives to the project.

By comparison, things on the Vermont side of the border look very different. The Clean Power Link project has generated just 12 written comments. Two alternatives were reviewed in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which was released in May, just one year after the application was submitted.

The environmental impact of the Vermont project appears to be far less than the impact of the Northern Pass proposal. Using modern technology, the Vermont cables would rest in a 4-foot-deep-by-4-foot-wide trench alongside public rights of way, or submerged in Lake Champlain. TDI, the transmission developer, will pay the State of Vermont $21 million annually for its use of road rights-of-way and will create an additional $298 million Public Good Benefit Fund.

In contrast, what would New Hampshire get? Steel towers 155-feet high looming over the tree canopy and scarring scenic views. Negative impacts on resources of regional and national significance. The danger of power outages due to wind, snow and ice storms due to vulnerable, overhead lines. Damage to the state’s tourism economy, and no lease payments to support the state budget.

The Appalachian Mountain Club, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and our respective members have long defended New Hampshire’s scenic landscapes. As we contemplate the Northern Pass vision, we are reminded of another wrong-headed proposal.

In the 1950s, the Feds  proposed blasting a four-lane superhighway through Franconia Notch. We objected. Ultimately, a compromise was reached and the two-lane Franconia Notch Parkway was built.

The Northern Pass proposal is mired in a contentious state permitting process with a very uncertain outcome. We believe that it’s time that the executives at Eversource and Hydro-Quebec recognize that their own interests may be best served by respecting the wishes of New Hampshire people and the landscapes we cherish. We call on Eversource and Hydro-Quebec to look at the benefits of the Vermont model and put forward a proposal that buries Northern Pass for its entire length.

There are many who point to the downsides of importing more power from Quebec and call for no new transmission lines. We see no need for the Northern Pass project. But burying the Northern Pass would prevent at least the selling out of New Hampshire and the natural resources of regional and national significance on which the livelihoods of Granite State citizens depend.

For more information on the status of unprecedented fight against the Northern Pass proposal, visit https://www.forestsociety.org/advocacy-issue/northern-pass or http://www.outdoors.org/conservation/hot-issues/northern-pass.cfm

Jane Difley is president/forester for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. John D. Judge is president of the Appalachian Mountain Club.

 

 

Ethan Allen returns to warn Vermont

Ethan Allen (Josh Fitzhugh) on  his way to his oration in Barre, Vt.

Josh Fitzhugh’s version of a speech that might have been given by Vermont founder Ethan Allen at a July 10 gubernatorial-candidate forum and picnic at the Vermont Granite Museum, in Barre. Mr. Fitzhugh is the chairman of the Washington County (Vt.) Republican Committee.

 

My fellow Vermonters! The Almighty has given me an unprecedented Opportunity after 225 years to revisit the haunts of my Youth, to see what has become of my own special Green Mountain State, and to share with you my Thoughts regarding the same, with no Shame or Fear but only a Desire to arrive at the Truth using Reason which is the only Oracle of Man!

Ever since I arrived to a state of manhood, and acquainted myself with the general history of mankind, I have felt a sincere passion for Liberty. Many times have I hazarded my life for you, as in my attack on Montreal and my barbarous captivity by the British. You know that when I lived, with a small band of fearless countrymen, I stormed and took Ticonderoga, a stony symbol of Oppression and Tyranny, “in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” ( I might also have said, “Come out of there, you goddamn old rat!”) 

The Green Mountain Boys later defeated the British warlord Burgoyne at Bennington. For many years I wrote, spoke and fought against New York authorities who wished to Deprive us of Property secured by the New Hampshire grants, even to the extent of sentencing us to Death in absentia for our Actions and Beliefs.

There were a number of Depraved and mean spirited Rascals, who would probably have assisted that designing government of Land clenchers to divide and enslave us, had not the Integrity and Heroism of the Green Mountain Boys prevented it.

Since NewHampshire had forsaken us, and New York tyrannized us as much as they possibly could or dare, we were left a people between heaven and hell, as free as is possible to conceive as any people to be; and in this condition we formed a government upon the true principles of Liberty and Natural Right.

So what do I see in Vermont today? I see a Beautiful land, as gorgeous as I recall, with as striking views of the Green and Adirondack mountains as ever I witnessed in my youth. I find people warm and friendly but sadly uninspired by the true Passions of our existence, a perpetual quest for Liberty and Personal Achievement. I see well-worked farms and hard-working farmers, and a strong commitment to our militia and armed forces. I see a people less controlled by clerics and more believing, as I am, in the law of nature.

Most proudly I see a state which still exists, independent of New York. But sadly, I also see a government which in many ways resembles the Schemers and Land‐Jockeys who worked so feverishly to deprive us of our Possessions and Liberties some two and a quarter centuries ago

You ask for examples. I see towering industrial windmills placed on Pristine mountaintops, because lobbyists have secured tax breaks and incentives in back room deals. I see contractors unable to choose how they wish to employ their help. I see local schools controlled by state knowitalls. I see one’s very health determined not by one’s lifestyle and family and the will of God, but by the State itself. I see taxes imposed not to fund a critical social need but rather to redistribute income amongst the population. I see a high proportion of families under the regular supervision of state social workers, and I see rows of empty storefronts in some of our biggest cities.

When I lived, except for debts caused by war, government expenses were miniscule. Today, nearly 50 percent of all human enterprise in this state is attributable to government. Taxes and fees are imposed on nearly every human product and activity, from beehives to ginseng, mutual funds to fuel oil. State expenses are increasing twice the rate of income growth. I did not fight to create a “land of endless taxation!”  

Our legislature was composed of farmers and small merchants, busy people who found time in winter to discuss and resolve the important issues of the day. Now I see that your solons are nearly full time and no issue seems too small to address. Where is the faith in the people and their families to solve these problems themselves? Above all, I see a state in which Freedom is defined as the ability to Ask for Permission rather than a Right to Act and Do, and where the political leaders routinely hand back our tax money and expect a thank you in return. Our leaders may not seek, but in fact are getting, a permanent dependency from their citizens. My wife, Fanny, doesn’t like me to say it, but I call it the “Mother May I” syndrome, after the children’s game:

“Mother Vermont, may I put a shed on this property? Yes you may, dear Ethan, if you pay us a fee and it satisfies our extensive rules.

“Mother Washington, will you give me some money for a new business? Why yes, Ethan, if we like your business, and you swear an oath to satisfy these 30 conditions.

“Mother Vermont, may I buy a gun from my neighbor? Today, yes, Ethan, but given your reputation, probably not for long.”

A dependent people are an impoverished people. A dependent people are those waiting for, indeed expecting, some kind of a handout. A dependent people are a people who believe that because they live, they are entitled to happiness. By my Beetle of Immortality, Happiness is not guaranteed in life!

You have this strange game where people try to throw a ball through a basket. A player in this game, LeBron James, said it well when he talked about his home in the Western Reserve. There he said, “Nothing is given; everything is earned. You work for what you have.” That is the Vermont I left and the Vermont I love!!

Tyranny, my friends, does not always come at the end of a gun, nor does it always come quickly. You can lose freedom slowly law by law, tax by tax. When I lived, hard currency was scare but we were free to build our lives and fortune in this new land. The opportunity to innovate and profit inspired all of us. Now it seems life is a network of credits and debits so complicated that even your vaulted computers can’t keep them straight, and the word Profit is treated like blasphemy.

We fought the New York patroons, the British lords and the Loyalist sympathizers because law was being used as a tool to cheat us out of the country we had made vastly valuable by labor and expense of our Fortunes. And if my life meant anything, it is that faced with such insatiable, avaricious, overbearing, inhuman, and barbarous intentions, you are not bound to be an accessory to your own ruin and destruction, but may act in accord with the law of Nature and Self Preservation.

Now don't assume I am against all government. Anyone who is acquainted with mankind, and things, must know that it would be impracticable to manage the Political Matters of this country without the assistance of civil government. People without it are like a ship in the Sea without a helm or mariner, tossed with impetuous waves. As the poet Alexander Pope wrote, “Go, teach Eternal Wisdom how to rule / then drop into thyself, and be a fool.”

You ask what can be done. I came here today because I feel these good people speaking today can help get Vermont back on track. I know they care for this state and understand the values that created her. I have previously, upon mature deliberation, expatiated on the good effects which cannot fail of redounding to the inhabitants, in so extensive a frontier country as, from the blessings of a well established civil government; and think it worth my trouble to communicate my sentiments and reflections to the public, with a view of encouraging the good and virtuous inhabitants of this State, to persevere and be happy in the further confirming and establishing the same.

In closing let me repeat something I wrote in my letter to Congress urging acceptance of Vermont as a state in the new Union. “A confederation of the state of Vermont with the other free and independent states cannot fail of being attended with salutary consequences to the confederacy at large, for ages yet to come. What a nursery of hardy soldiers may in future be nourished and supported in this fertile country (which is one hundred and fifty miles in length, and near sixty in breadth), stimulated with the spirit of liberty, having a perfect detestation and abhorrence of arbitrary power, from the exertions whereof they have suffered so much evil.”

I said then, and say now, that Vermonters will instill the principles of liberty and social virtue in their children, which will be perpetuated to future generations. The climate and interior remove from the sea coast will naturally be productive of a laborious life, by which means they will be in great measure exempted from luxury and self indulgence, and be a valuable support to the rising empire of the new world.

Hear ye, Hear ye. What was true then is still true today! Good luck and may I see you again some time!

Jefferson Paris: Bernie in Havana

Editor’s Note: This two-act play takes off from the recent decision by President Obama to restore U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba. Raul Castro, Fidel Castro’s brother, is president of the Council of State of Cuba. Bernard Sanders, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is a self-described democratic socialist, is a U.S. senator from Vermont. The author is a resident of Vermont; Jefferson Parish is a nom de plume.  

bernieraul

 

Scene one, Presidential office of Raul Castro, in Havana, Cuba, sometime in 2015.

Bernard Sanders enters, followed by an aide and two press photographers.

Sanders:  [In a 1950’s Brooklyn accent] Hello, Mr. President.

Castro: Hello Bernie, ah, Mr. Ambassador. This is an historic occasion.

Sanders:  Yes it is, Mr. President. Our president sends his regards and best wishes and asked me to say:

Buenos Dias, El Presidente.

Castro:  Very good! When you return you can tell him this for me:

Go Yankees!

         

                  [Castro chuckles at his joke.]

[The two men shake hands, as the press photographer records the occasion. They then sit.]

Sanders:  Mr. President…

Castro:  Please call me Raul. If you don’t mind I’ll call you Bernie.

Sanders:  Of course. Everyone does. Now Raul, our president…=

Castro:  Barack….

Sanders:  Yes, Barack and I believe it is in the best interest of our respective countries that the over-50-year-old U.S. trade embargo of Cuba be ended and free trade resume. But that requires approval by our Congress. And Congress needs some assurances from you.

Castro:  Can I offer you a cigar, Bernie?

Sanders:  Sure. But aren’t we in a smoke-free zone? Where I live in Vermont, you can’t even smoke in the city park.

Castro:  No problemo here, Bernie. I make the rules.

Sanders: OK. [He lights up, takes a puff, then looks at the cigar.] The red band is nice touch. Now, as I was saying, Congress needs some assurances….

Castro:  Such as….

Sanders: [Making sure that the photographer is filming, he removes a card from his pocket and begins reading.]

That Cuba will respect freedom of expression, religion and association; that American investors will be repaid for expropriated property; that people will be entitled to pursue life, liberty and pursuit of happiness; that you will allow political parties; that you will empty your prisons of political prisoners and renounce state-sponsored terrorism; that you will export rum and cigars to America; and that our hotels and casinos will be welcomed.

Castro: You ask for a lot, Bernie. You should be glad my brother is not     here. He’d send you a fastball high and tight and shout,

“Yanqui, go home!”

Sanders:  Actually, Raul, I grew up in Brooklyn and rooted for the Dodgers against the Yankees.

Castro:  Ah yes. Well my wife went to MIT and rooted for the Red Sox. But you didn’t actually want Yankees to go home, did you? [chuckling] Well, we do need some new trading partners with the oil business in the crapper, so let’s discuss this more in private, si?

Sanders:  Si, I mean yes, Raul. [Turning to his aide and the photographers] Will you excuse us? [They leave.]

Scene two. Same office but the two are now alone.

Castro:  Hey, Bernie, where did you learn the secret socialist handshake?

Sanders:  I read about it once in a book about Che, and a few years ago tried it out on Hugo at a meeting in Caracas with Joe Kennedy and his home-heating-oil company. It’s tricky to make each digit the same size and minimize the importance of the thumb. I don’t think that the press boys noticed.

Castro:  Do you want me to have them arrested and find out?

Sanders:  No, no [trying to smile]. Not today at least. Did you like my speech?

Castro:  Well, I admired the apparent conviction. It can’t have been easy for a socialist to say. But there’s an old Spanish idiom that translated goes something like this: “You fuck the chicken if you must.” Which reminds me, how did you get Barack to appoint you ambassador?

Sanders:  I learned long ago that the way to get what you want is to make yourself a pain somewhere else. I enjoyed being a senator but I wasn’t getting anywhere. So I started rumors about a presidential run of my own. Did you read about it?

Castro:  Sure. I get Burlington’s Seven Days. The Bernie Beat’s terrific.

Sanders:  Well, I was making the Clinton/Cuomo/Warren people nervous. They figured I couldn’t pass up this gig. The same thing happened in Vermont when I threatened to run for governor. Voila, I became a congressman!

Castro:  Nice. But aren’t people afraid you’ll give away the store down here?

Sanders:  Let me put it to you this way. [Taking another drag on his cigar.] We, that is, the CIA, have tons of money. I mean tons and tons and tons of it. Just look what we spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you’ll just relax on a few of the smaller things I talked about (like letting Caesar’s Palace into Havana and letting Catholics attend church regularly), money will go wherever you want it to…Cuba, the Caymans, Kremlin, Swiss banks, Vermont, wherever.

Castro:  But La Revolution? Fidel’s vision of compete equality? Che’s legacy?

Sanders:  [Looking around] Are we truly alone here, Raul?

Castro:   Si, senor. But this is the only place.

Sanders:  Now here’s the thing. You’ve got to look at the big picture. If you soft-pedal a few of these socialist ideas, for which we will pay you richly, I will work with you to push the big ideas to our country. We can go on a speaking tour. Havana may become like Miami, but America will become like your Cuba.

[He high-fives Raul.]

Castro: [Pausing for a while] Che would be impressed, El Bernardo. Is Barack on board?

Sanders: Si, El Presidente. It was his idea to begin. But he insists you open a golf course.

Castro:  I suppose we could do that. How else do we start?

Sanders:  In the north, in the snow, in Vermont in fact.

Castro:  Brrr. Would I have to go there?

Sanders:  No (though you’d be warmly received), but some of that money coming your way would. The idea is to make Vermont the model of the new U.S. free health care, complete income redistribution, more government programs. You know, socialism. We’re about half way there now; we just need some money to finish it. Then it is, “as Vermont goes, so goes the nation.”

Castro:  You’ve got quite a vision there, Bernie.

Sanders: My friends aren’t called Sanderistas for nothing!

Castro: But how am I going to back away from our revolutionary goals? My party will be sorely disappointed.

Sanders:  Not if you do what I did, Raul, and the steps are pretty simple.

One, blast the rich whenever and wherever you can. It matters less what you do than what you say you are going to do. That is the first rule of my politics.

Castro:  But we don’t have any rich here, except us.

Sanders:  Oh yeah. Then on to step two. Speak up for the little guy, whenever and wherever. Again, talking is more important than doing.

Castro:  We do that now.

Sanders: Third, always, always support the veterans. If you support the vets, you win over or at least neutralize the army. And with the army on your side, business won’t oppose you.

Castro:   We don’t have any business here either.

Sanders:  How lucky! But in sum, if you say Viva la Revolution over and over and make sure the vets get a pension, you’ll win every election and be able to do pretty much whatever you want. Get it?

Castro:  We don’t have real elections down here, Bernie. And I already do what I want. Nevertheless, I think all this is going to work out very well. Why don’t we have a swig of rum from my in-laws’ pre-revolution distillery to toast the people. And then we can call Hugo with the good news.

Sanders:  Okay,  but one more thing before I leave. I really like your hair. Who’s your barber?

 

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William A. Collins: State banks are a good idea

By WILLIAM A. COLLINS NORWALK,  Conn.

Vermonters aren’t like the rest of us: They live in a small state with a flinty history and a legendary suspicion of outsiders.

That independent streak gained luster when 15 Vermont towns voted earlier this year to reinforce this independent tradition by approving a proposal to create a state bank.

The Vermont Economic Development Authority would get a license to do what private banks normally do — only with a mandate to serve the public interest no matter what.

This isn’t unprecedented. North Dakota has enjoyed a flourishing state banking system for nearly a century.

Costa Rica set another good precedent. Its public banking dates back to 1949. As of a decade ago, its four state banks held 75 percent or more of all individual deposits.

All this is quite vexing to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. As elsewhere, they have muscled Costa Rica to privatize its government-owned businesses. Costa Rica has largely done this, but it won’t let go of its state-owned banks. For some reason, Costa Ricans don’t trust the commercial ones.

No, Americans don’t trust our banks either. But only North Dakota’s state bank remains under public control.

Everywhere else, banking laws have made it very profitable for old-fashioned mutual (non-profit) savings banks, once popular, to sell out their depositors and turn commercial. The executives who accomplish this switch all do very nicely for themselves.

Luckily, credit unions carry on from bygone times as a thorn in the side of the industry, but Wall Street is working hard to extinguish them too. Credit unions depend heavily on their non-profit status to protect them against taxes, so conservative outfits like the Tax Foundation are trying mightily to squash that exemption.

Theoretically, the government is our protector from the avaricious cartel of private banks. Both state and federal laws ostensibly provide us with banking watchdogs which safeguard the honesty and fairness of our saving and borrowing.

That’s really just in theory. Unfortunately, a cynical revolving door regularly sends regulators wheeling into bank jobs and bankers hot-footing it over to regulation. At the same time, lobbyists sap the rectitude of those lawmakers and oversight agencies who you might have thought had our best interests at heart.

Hence, banks feel unrestricted to manipulate credit cards, student loans, mortgages, securitizations, hedge funds, credit default swaps, currency exchanges, and all manner of rigged financial transactions. Our regulators rein them in sometimes, but in many cases not until after the damage is done.

As a result, when mortgages default, neighborhoods collapse, families are ruined, and the economy tanks, the banks go right on — perhaps with their wrists slapped.

One other savings alternative does exist: the U.S. Postal Service. In years gone by, the Postal Service doubled as a bank that had lots of branches and no securitized mortgages.

But given the general lack of trust that  most people have in commercial banks, some lawmakers are looking to bring the Post Office back into banking. That would be a new American Revolution.

 William A. Collins is a former Connecticut state representative, a former mayor of Norwalk, Conn., and a columnist for OtherWords.org, where this column originated.