Editorial: It’s the Chronicle’s fortieth birthday — thanks everyone!

A solid reminder of how we used to operate — an old manual typewriter — sits in a corner of the Chronicle office.  The hat belonged to Anna Baker, the artist responsible for the Chronicle cows, and on the wall behind it is a copy of the original flyer announcing the start of a new newspaper, the Chronicle.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

A solid reminder of how we used to operate — an old manual typewriter — sits in a corner of the Chronicle office. The hat belonged to Anna Baker, the artist responsible for the Chronicle cows, and on the wall behind it is a copy of the original flyer announcing the start of a new newspaper, the Chronicle. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle March 26, 2014

This week, March 28, is the Chronicle’s fortieth birthday.  Chris and Ellen Braithwaite produced that first edition on typewriters in an Albany farmhouse.  It had stories about Orleans Village winning a lawsuit, cuts to the Lake Region Union High School budget, an obituary, a review of a gardening book written by former West Glover resident Carey Scher — in other words, pretty much the same sort of things we’re still writing about all these years later.

That first paper was by no means fancy.  It was a mere eight pages, put out by relative newcomers to the area on antiquated equipment amidst small children, a mongrel dog, and, according to its first reporter, Colin Nickerson, monstrous spiders that the Braithwaites refused to kill on the grounds that they were natural insecticide.

But some people bought that very first Chronicle — and much to our surprise, some of them have continued to buy it every single week for the past 40 years.

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Editorial: Fight tar sands oil — for the right reasons

copyright the Chronicle February 26, 2014

Next week at Town Meeting four Orleans County towns will vote on a resolution that basically says they don’t want tar sands oil to be shipped through the Portland Pipeline’s Northeast Kingdom oil lines.  They are Albany, Glover, Westmore, and Charleston.

Unfortunately, none of those towns are host to the pipeline and would not be directly affected by any such plan.

For years now, Vermont environmentalists have warned about the possibility of the flow of the lines being reversed and Canadian tar sands oil being shipped south and west through them from Alberta to Maine.  For two years, 350 Vermont has attempted to show opposition by persuading towns to adopt resolutions at Town Meeting.

Although their efforts were a bit more organized this year, they still seem to be inept at best.  One of the towns that would be most severely affected by any oil spill is Barton, yet that town will not be voting this year on a tar sands resolution.

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Opinion: A post-Valentine’s Day message on love and justice

copyright the Chronicle February 19, 2014

by Allen Gilbert

This year’s Valentine’s Day had a message that I hope will raise the day’s usual associations with flowers and chocolate to one of fairness and equality.  I never thought the holiday might be seen that way.  But it’s so obvious — the day is about couples and love.  And as a country, we’re finally developing a broad acceptance that means all couples.

The march to marriage equality has strong, vibrant roots in our state.  Twenty years ago, some courageous, committed Vermonters looked at the injustice of unequal marriage rights and decided that had to change.

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Editorial: Newport City Council missed the boat

The Newport City Council missed the boat last week when approached about the possibility of putting a tar sands resolution on the agenda for the annual City Meeting in March.  The council could have welcomed city residents who want to talk about an important local issue.  Instead they snubbed them.

The council told residents and an environmental organizer who wants to put a question about tar sands on the ballot that they might accept a petition from 5 percent of the city’s voters and put it on the ballot.  Or they might not.

Traditionally, the city council has turned down items that are not strictly city business, aldermen told the voters.

In this discussion, they told voters and a representative of the Sierra Club that they should not put anything “politicized” on the ballot.

Isn’t the whole idea of Town Meeting Day about local politics?  How strange for the city’s leading political figures to say they want to avoid politics at their city meeting.

Beyond that, just whose city is Newport anyway?  If 5 percent of city voters want to talk about something, what harm is that going to do?

The city council seems to be saying that tar sands is not a local issue.

City Manager John Ward called the Sierra Club, “just one more lobbying group coming here to tell us how to live.”

But tar sands is definitely a local issue.  The Portland Pipeline goes through Newport Center, which borders the city.  The pipeline goes through a number of towns further south where the rivers drain into Lake Memphremagog.

Does the council believe that an oil spill into rivers and streams leading to Lake Memphremagog would not harm the city’s economy, not to mention the environment?  If there were a spill, we wouldn’t be eating bass, walleye, trout or perch for years to come.

Newport City’s annual meeting is typically a brief, perfunctory affair where almost no one comes and almost nothing is discussed.  The city’s business is done by paper ballot.

Certainly this works well in terms of getting a good number of people to vote on municipal and school budgets and elections.  It’s more convenient for working people to choose their voting time.

But the lack of discussion is unfortunate, and here is an opportunity to allow city residents to have a debate about an issue that could affect the city drastically.  What is the problem with allowing that discussion and even a vote on a resolution?

There is such a thing as being too provincial.  The Northeast Kingdom sometimes has that reputation, and it’s time for that to change.

The city council could have taken a step to welcome discussion on an important regional topic, but instead they mostly closed the door on it.  Why?  Tradition?  Maybe it’s time for a new tradition. — B.M.D.

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Editorial: Adults should set better examples about bullying

Recently, a videotape of schoolchildren from Orleans Elementary fighting was posted on Facebook.  Upon investigation, the school’s principal concluded that it wasn’t so much a case of targeted bullying, as some had suspected, as it was an argument, mostly amongst middle school kids.

However, the incident served to highlight the role social media plays in the lives of young people these days — and how adults can exacerbate a situation.

It also illustrated the increasing complexity of a world where media so thoroughly infiltrates the lives of young people that it’s hard to draw the line between what happens in school and what happens outside of it.  An incident that occurs outside of school but is publicly posted and viewed by schoolchildren — what territory does that lie in?

The issue is so complex and troubling that it would take more than the space we have on this page to delve into every aspect of it.  But there are two things we’d particularly like to mention here.

One doesn’t have to look far these days to see plenty of uncivil behavior.  “Watch TV, listen to talk shows, talk radio…people seem to be so much less civil,” said Andre Messier, principal of Lake Region Union High School.

We agree with him.

The federal government is certainly no example of civil discourse or respectful behavior.  Political and ideological differences turn into personal, often nasty and intimidating attacks.  News programs don’t deliver information in a calm or neutral fashion; many of them are little more than shouting matches.  Scorn, condescension, and polarity are far more prevalent than empathy, compassion, and respect.

In the age of You Tube, iPhones, iPads, Facebook, and vines, nearly anyone can put anything up for public view — tasteful or not, worth watching or not.  Shock value seems to be a goal, the ultimate goal being attention, we suppose.

And we don’t need the National Security Agency’s help with violating our privacy.  We seem to be pretty good at doing it ourselves.

One would think that, in such an atmosphere — which children are heavily exposed to — adults would set out to temper matters.  Instead, as in the Orleans incident, the opposite can happen.

“Basically, all of the adults turned into bullies themselves in the comments,” said Kristin Atwood, an Orleans School Board member who saw the boy’s video after a Facebook friend passed it on to her.  “The sharing of the video was really kind of incendiary, and the adults’ comments were often promoting violence against the student who’s accused of bullying,” Ms. Atwood said.

If a questionable video involving schoolchildren appears on Facebook, it seems to us that the appropriate course would be to bring the matter to the attention of school officials and leave it there.  “Sharing” the video and posting incendiary comments (behaving, in other words, like a bully) does not strike us as an ideal method for dealing with an online video posted by a kid about kids.

Posting something online rather than talking to a teacher or administrator can inflame a situation, but it won’t remedy it.  Kids may not know better; adults should.

So grownups:  Either get off Facebook, or limit your own behavior to the best of what you would expect from children.   If you deplore uncivil discourse and disrespectful behavior in children, don’t do such a good job of showing them how it’s done. — T.S.

For the Chronicle‘s story on bullying, click here.

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Editorial: No retreat

President Obama was right to stand his ground while the government was shut down by the U.S. House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Republican Party, which is controlled by its extreme right wing.

To give in would have been to turn the government over to minority rule by a group united in its hatred of government.  As Senator Bernie Sanders has said, to give up part of Obama Care to avoid the shutdown would only invite the House to use its absolute control over the budget to pick off the next program it decides to hate — Social Security, say, or Medicare.

Sensing, perhaps, that they have misjudged the public mood, the Republicans are now trying to choreograph a slow retreat.  Their leaders propose to fund the most popular federal services — the national parks were on the bargaining table Tuesday night — while leaving the programs they most dislike begging.

If the Democrats agree to play that game, the result will be the same.  The Republicans will fund just exactly as much government as they want, of exactly the sort they want.  That would seem pretty much like running the country.  In their effort to do that through the electoral process, the Republicans missed a couple of steps, like the Senate and the presidency.

The Democrats need to hang tough in this crisis.  The Republicans need to answer a question posed during a recent, unrelated argument by Barton Village Trustee David White:  “Why can’t we all put our big boy pants on?”

And as long as we’re excoriating people, we’re puzzled by the gag order that padlocked federal agencies have imposed on their idle employees.

Why shouldn’t we know about the services they are unable to provide?  Why shouldn’t we know how this has affected their lives and their families?

Fact is, they and the rest of us are being screwed by the devious, anti-democratic machinations of the right-wing rump of the Republican Party.  And everybody should have the right to say so. — C.B.

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Editorial: A sad echo from across the sea

“They’re still at it!”

That’s what we said when we read the astounding news that on September 5, almost three decades after Vermont State Police raided the Northeast Kingdom Community Church in Island Pond and seized its children, it happened again in southern Germany.

Again it was an early dawn raid on the group, which now calls itself the Twelve Tribes.  Again, the children were taken away by police who said they had “fresh evidence indicating significant and ongoing child abuse by the members.”

We imagine that our outraged amazement that they’re still at it was shared by two groups of Vermonters.

For one group, no doubt the larger group, “They” are the police and the State they serve.  And what they’re at is the persecution of a religious community for straying outside the norms of our society.

For the second group, largely made up of people closer to the story, people who perhaps had friends or relatives living with the group in Island Pond, “They” are the adults in that community.  And what they’re at is the systematic abuse of their own children, using slender wooden sticks of the sort used to hold balloons at birthday parties.

For the record, here’s what the Twelve Tribes says on its website, under “frequently asked questions,” about how it disciplines its children:

“When they are disobedient or intentionally hurtful to others we spank them with a small reed-like rod, which only inflicts pain and not damage.”

In Vermont it was evidence of the use of these rods, which left welts on small bodies in beatings that were sometimes very lengthy, sometimes severe, that finally led authorities to resort to the raid.

District Judge Frank Mahady ruled, in 1983 after presiding over a custody battle between a father who left the group and a mother who remained, that the children “were subjected to frequent and methodical physical abuse by adult members of the community, in the form of hours-long whippings with balloon sticks.”

District Judge Joseph Wolchik, after reviewing a large collection of evidence and allegations, signed a warrant ordering police to conduct the raid of June 22, 1984.

But at the Orleans County Courthouse that afternoon, Judge Mahady ruled that the raid was unconstitutional and sent the children home to Island Pond.

Governor Richard Snelling said at the time he would submit the constitutional issue to the Vermont Supreme Court, but changed his mind.

So as a legal matter, that’s how things stand to this day.  Two judges of equal authority disagreed.  No higher court has ever resolved their dispute.

That’s a problem, because the reconciliation of practices based on sincere religious belief and laws that prohibit such practices is a difficult constitutional issue.

There can be no doubt that the adults in the Island Pond community believed they were following God’s will.  And there can be no doubt that they were breaking the laws crafted to protect this society’s most vulnerable members.

There were people, in the aftermath of the raid, who saw the need to tackle the problem, to try and draft laws that would protect children using methods less drastic than a frightening pre-dawn raid.  But public reaction against the raid was strong enough to marginalize anyone who tried to continue the discussion.

It was a stunning victory for the Island Pond community, and we said so on June 27, 1984:

“We hope we’re wrong, but can’t shake off the feeling that those children are out of the reach of the state of Vermont once and for all.  Not out of the reach of some awesome, totalitarian power.  But out of the reach of a community that surrounds them, cares for them and weeps for them.”

Maybe this time, for a different generation of children in a different country, things will work out better. — C.B.

To read the Chronicle story on the Twelve Tribes raid in Germany, click here.

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Editorial: A closer look at the obesity epidemic

The statistics presented by the district health department Saturday are alarming.  Seventy-five percent of the people in Orleans and northern Essex counties are overweight or obese, they say.

What might be even more alarming is the assertion made by the film Weight of the Nation that it’s not entirely an accident.  If you believe the documentary, done by HBO with the Institute of Medicine among others, the two-thirds of Americans who are now overweight or obese have had a lot of help putting on the pounds.

For one thing, federal farm policy encourages monoculture farming and subsidizes soy and corn, ingredients commonly used in snack and processed food.

For another, the U.S. food industry — since it’s in the business of making money — most heavily markets its most profitable products, which tend to be foods made with artificially inexpensive, government subsidized ingredients.  Those so-called foods are full of calories rather than nutrition, but they’re cheap, quick, and generally appealing, to young people in particular.

When was the last time you saw a television commercial pushing string beans?  The profit on string beans is about 10 percent.  The profit on soda is 90 percent, according to Weight of the Nation.

Any parent knows that grocery shopping these days with a young child is a nightmare.  The collection of junk foods aimed at children is daunting.

As a parent, I’ve long resented the food industry and how it’s made my life more difficult.  The snack cracker aisle alone is like running a gauntlet.

No, we are not getting Sponge Bob crackers.  No, we are not getting Lunchables; I don’t care if Johnny has Lunchables.  No, we are not getting this substance that pretends it’s related to yogurt….

At some point, grocery shopping with a child turned into a battle against marketers who want my kid to want things that are bad for him.

It wasn’t this way even 20 years ago.  When my daughter was young the battle was over SpaghettiOs, which I refused to buy.  That’s laughable now.  SpagettiOs have come to seem pretty benign in the face of the explosion of other, far worse and voluminous, possibilities.

Twenty years ago, avoiding sedentary screen time was also easy enough:  I disconnected the TV.  Today, it doesn’t even matter that the satellite dish is disconnected six months a year.  There’s the computer, Netflix, Hulu, iPads, iPhones, Wii, Xbox, so many ways for kids to engage with a screen rather than the great outdoors.

Yes, there are lots of reasons for being overweight, and lifestyle choices are among them.  But it’s not likely that about 30 years ago two-thirds of Americans got up in the morning and decided they’d get fat.

Nationally, there are good reasons why people add pounds:  No close place to buy good food, no safe place to exercise.

Those reasons don’t hold true here.  It is true, however, that obesity is linked to poverty, and we are poor.  It takes time and money to come up with lean and nutritious meals, and a poor population may not have much of either.

To understand what some call an obesity epidemic, we should look at the cheap and time saving choices people are offered today.  Many fast food restaurants have a dollar menu.  Salads aren’t on it.  Yes, it’s good that fast food places offer healthier choices, but let’s be real here.  No one is going to McDonald’s to get a great salad.

Frozen fruits and vegetables don’t take up much room in the grocery store freezers.  They’re more likely to be filled with pizzas and highly processed microwavable meals.

The cereal section is no place to look for healthy breakfast food.  Chocolate, marshmallow, and frosting are among the choices.

A time and money stressed family may have enough trouble buying and cooking healthy food without also battling a food industry that’s making the job harder.

Weight of the Nation notes there was a time when people thought it was impossible to take on the powerful tobacco industry.  That turned out to be untrue.

The food industry can also be successfully taken on, the film suggests.  It’s possible, at least, to cease marketing bad food to kids, as cigarettes are no longer advertised on TV.

Parents have to step up, as well.  But it would help if the playing field were level.  As it is, a meal of fresh fish and vegetables costs considerably more than a pound of burger and a box of Hamburger Helper, which contains soybean oil and, surprise, corn syrup, that most ubiquitous U.S. ingredient.

You can’t blame a farmer for wanting to make a living.  You can blame a farm policy that uses our own tax dollars to encourage overproduction of the cheap, unhealthy food that’s helped make two-thirds of us fat. – T.S.

To read the Chronicle’s full story on this subject, click here.

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Opinion: Do the math on wind power

by Vermont Senator John S. Rodgers

If 66 percent of Vermonters favor industrial wind on our mountains, then pro-wind groups have nothing to worry about in Senate Bill S-30.  S-30 lays out a process to answer many unanswered questions about industrial wind.  It also gives regional and town plans a determinative roll in the PSB permit process.

An in-depth study by the prestigious Pacific Research Institute found that a wind project needed to have a capacity factor of 35 percent before it could erase its carbon footprint within its life expectancy of 20 years.  In New York State and Maine the capacity factor has been around 23 percent.  Also in the news is the fact that all over the world industrial wind turbines have been failing prematurely and not coming close to that 20-year mark.

FYI:  Lowell cost about $170-million and Sheffield about $120-million, between the two of them they will receive about $80-million in federal tax dollars (our money).  If that  same $80-million had been spent to insulate Vermonters homes we could have insulated about 23,000 homes, saved Vermonters around $23,000,000 a year in fuel costs and reduced carbon more than twice what Sheffield and Lowell combined will.  (CO2 reduction in Lowell — 70,000 tons a year; in Sheffield —  44,000 tons a year.  While $80-million in insulation which would reduce carbon 260,000 tons a year)  Local contractors would be doing the work insulating homes and we know that means that the money would have a multiplier effect in the community.  All of this with no adverse environmental impacts.  Remember that is just the public money ($80-million) not the full $290,000,000 that was spent on the two projects. That $290-million will all be paid for by the ratepayers and taxpayers.

S-30 is the product of more information and testimony than has ever been compiled on this subject in the VT Legislature.  It will not stop communities that want industrial wind.  It is  a work in progress as we wait for many unanswered questions to be answered and the results of the Siting Commission so that next year we can continue to improve the way that we site electric generation in Vermont.  What it will do is give communities that do not want industrial wind a much-needed voice against a well-funded industry that does not care about our heritage or our environment.  Call your legislators and the Governor and ask them to support S-30.  Tell them that the 65 to 70 percent of Vermonters that supposedly want it can still have industrial wind and those who do not want it can pursue other more productive methods to address climate change.

Senator John S Rodgers of Glover represents the Essex-Orleans Senate District.

To read the text of S.30, click here.

 

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Protest tar sands on a bridge over the Connecticut River January 23

To the editor and North Country Citizens:

Just go to Google Images and type in “Alberta Tar Sands” and you will see what it’s all about. It’s the dirtiest oil on the planet and there’s lots of it.  Mining it is literally destroying the boreal forest in the Northern HALF of Alberta Canada. James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist, says it’s “game over” for global warming if the tar sands oil is burned.

The largest oil spill in US history that you probably never heard about occurred just 2 years ago on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.  To no one’s surprise it was tar sands oil. Tar sands crude oil contains sand making it more abrasive; and its pumped at higher pressure and higher temperature than regular crude oil. The result is increased odds of a pipeline spill. Its like hot liquid sandpaper.

Not to be deterred, the Canadian government and its corporate partners are hell bent on developing tar sands oil and exporting it to the world. Major corporate partners include Enbridge and the largest corporation in the history of the world Exxon Mobile.

You may have heard about the XL pipeline in the Midwest and the massive civil disobedience over it lead by Vermont’s own Bill McKibben. You may have heard about the tree sitter’s blockaide in Texas to stop another tar sands pipeline there. You probably did not hear about the arrest of news reporters trying to cover the Texas protesters – ala Chris Braithwaite from the Barton Chronicle.

You probably did not hear about the so far successful resistance to the tar sands pipeline in British Columbia; lead largely by First Nations tribes.

Not to be deterred, Enbridge and Exxon Mobile are pressing on:  to Vermont.

Despite denials there is no doubt they are quietly moving forward with a  previous plan called ”Trailbreaker” which would pump tar sands oil all the way from Alberta to Montreal to Portland Maine. Enbridge recently made formal application to reverse the flow of its line 9 pipeline in Ontario in order to pump tar sands oil to Montreal. Enbridge is also trying to get permission to build a pumping station near the US border. From Montreal to Portland the tar sands oil would flow through an existing oil pipeline through the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and the North Country of New Hampshire and past Sebago Lake in Maine.

An “existing oil pipeline” – in Vermont? Who knew?! Wait, it’s worse. The pipeline crosses numerous rivers and streams, goes by Victory Bog and – and – it’s 60 years old! The owners of the pipeline (the parent company is Exxon Mobile) were recently cited by federal regulators for failure to properly maintain the pipeline.  . . . So . . .

On Wednesday, January 23, at High Noon on the bridge over the Connecticut River on Route 2 near Lancaster, New Hampshire, delegations from Vermont and New Hampshire will join hands over the river  for a peaceful protest against tar sands oil.  The pipeline is 100 yards downstream from the bridge; and upstream from half of New England!

Will you join us?

For more info see www.tarsandsfreene.org 

or Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/466059446791428/

See you on the bridge!

Peter Blose

Barnet

 

 

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