Posts Tagged ‘Vermont’

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Back in 2011, the communities of Vermont—which Calvin Coolidge referred to as “this brave little state”—managed to survive and rebuild after Tropical Storm Irene.

Now, as Molly Worthen explains, they’re bravely rebuilding the state’s healthcare system, after much pushing and prodding from the Vermont Progressive Party.

The Progressives owe much of their success to the oddities of Vermont politics. But their example offers hope that the most frustrating dimensions of our political culture can change, despite obstacles with deep roots in American history.

Green Mountain Care won’t begin until at least 2017, but Vermont liberals are optimistic. “Americans want to see a model that works,” Senator Bernie Sanders told The Atlantic in December. (Mr. Sanders is an independent, but a longtime ally of the Progressives.) “If Vermont can be that model it will have a profound impact on discourse in this country.”

Before you dismiss that prospect as wishful thinking, consider: That’s how national health care happened in Canada. A third party’s provincial experiment paved the way for national reform. In 1946, the social-democratic government of Saskatchewan passed a law providing free hospital care to most residents. The model spread to other provinces, and in 1957 the federal government adopted a cost-sharing measure that evolved into today’s universal single-payer system.

Take back Vermont

Posted: 28 February 2014 in Uncategorized
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The new campaign to take back Vermont should not be confused with the 2000 campaign to repeal civil unions. This one is about the growing problem of heroin addiction in the Green Mountain State.

Long visible at the street level in towns and cities across the country, the extent of the opiate scourge in rural Vermont burst into the national consciousness last month, when Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State message to what he said was a “full-blown heroin crisis.” Much of New England is now also reporting record overdoses and deaths.

For some communities just starting to reckon with drugs, Mr. Shumlin’s words were a call to arms; for Rutland, they offered a sense of solidarity as this city of 17,000 moves ahead with efforts to help reclaim its neighborhoods and its young people, not to mention its reputation.

As Gina Tron explains,

Vermont draws lots of out-of-staters who move there thinking it’s some sort of promised land of maple syrup and covered bridges.

Vermont is beautiful—the view from our house was breathtaking, with rolling hills stretching for miles, full of grazing deer in the morning and howling coyotes at night. But the state is also more complicated than its reputation.

“I was expecting more overalls,” one family friend remarked during a visit a few years after we arrived. Another asked if my classmates wore clogs and pigtails to school. They dismissed my Vermont friends as hicks, and saw the state as a wholesome joke. “What kinda crime do they have up there? Someone stole a block of Cabot cheese?”

It’s not just out-of-staters who see Vermont this way—plenty of locals like to claim the state is immune to “big city problems.” But it’s not that there’s less dysfunction in Vermont. It just takes a different, often less visible, form.

That’s why it’s downright dangerous for liberals like Matthew Yglesias to claim that Vermont really is prospering. A low unemployment rate (in a state with a small percentage of formal-sector jobs) and a high median income (in a state that has refashioned itself as a tourist destination and land of second homes) signify very little. Vermont is also a state of impoverished cities and rural areas, where meth labs and sales of cheaper heroin prosper alongside sugar shacks and covered bridges.

Gleaning is an activity that combines a various and changing combination of need and inventiveness.

That combination is best illustrated in Agnès Varda’s extraordinary film, The Gleaners and I, in which she tracks a series of gleaners (who hunt for food, knicknacks, and personal connection) and shows that she, as an artist, is also always a gleaner.

In The Gleaners and I, Varda films herself combing her newly discovered gray hair, and there are many visuals of her aging hands. She frequently “catches” trucks on the freeway, forming a circle with her hand in front of the camera framing the truck in the center, then closing her hand as she drives past them.

Much of this footage is woven into the film to show that Varda, as a film maker, is also a gleaner. This concept is made explicit in the French title, Les glaneurs et la glaneuse, which could be translated as “the gleaners and the gleaneress”.

A different combination of those same qualities—need and inventiveness—is currently being demonstrated across the United States, as the need for food has grown while food-bank contributions have fallen. Therefore, groups such as as the Vermont Food Bank have stepped up their gleaning activity:

The Vermont Food Bank’s gleaning program is no small operation. So far this year, it has gathered more than 230,000 pounds of produce, and there will be more coming in, even as winter arrives. The program has gathered as much as 400,000 pounds of produce in a single year. . .

There is a definite need for the food that the gleaning program salvages. Federal surplus food donations have dwindled sharply this year. The two million pounds of food that the Vermont Food Bank used to receive has been cut by 50%.

“So that’s a million pounds of food that we won’t be distributing,” said Michelle Wallace, program manager for the Food Bank.

Wallace noted that hunger in Vermont is real, and it’s no longer just feeding the elderly or young children in needy families.

“Now we’re seeing working families that aren’t earning enough to put food on the table,” she said.

Hunger can also mean more than a simple lack of food. “Hunger isn’t just about a lack of calories,” Wallace said. “It’s also about a lack of good nutrition.”

The gleaning program is helping fill both gaps: the loss of federal surplus commodities, and the need for nutritious, healthy food. Thus, it has become doubly important.

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One year ago, Tropical Storm Irene devastated large parts of the “brave little state of Vermont.” Here are three paintings by Chester artist James Jahrsdoerfer.

I don’t have a dog in this hunt. But I do have a suggestion.

The hunt I’m referring to is the current spat between Thomas Palley and Randall Wray over Modern Monetary Theory, especially the idea of the government as Employer of Last Resort for unemployed workers.

Fine, battle it out, you two.*

What I want to suggest is it’s a mistake to limit the debate to fiscal and monetary stimulus versus direct government hiring. What about allowing workers to use unemployment benefits (perhaps supplemented by technical advice and additional capitalization) to form worker-owned cooperatives? That way, unemployed workers would be able to get back to work, earn a decent living, and collectively make decisions to help themselves and others in the surrounding community.

As I understand it, it’s the kind of solution behind Italy’s Marcora Law. It might be worth a try in the United States in the midst of the Second Great Depression. We’ll call it the Not-Palley-or-Wray Law.

*Although I do have to remark that it’s a bit of a cheap shot for Palley to use the ConDem government’s punitive scheme to force the long-term unemployed to work unpaid for six months as an example of what is wrong with the kind of policies advocated by Wray and other Modern Monetary Theorists.

Update

I just found out [ht: gh] that my own senator, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has just introduced legislation that would expand employee ownership of businesses in Vermont and throughout the country. The announcement doesn’t explicit mention unemployment but it does include funding to states through the Department of Labor to establish and expand employee ownership centers and the creation of a U.S. Employee Ownership Bank to provide loans to help workers purchase businesses through an employee stock ownership plan or a worker-owned cooperative.

Of mines and roads

Posted: 6 December 2011 in Uncategorized
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In updates to two stories I’ve been following (e.g., here and here): Massey Energy has been forced to pay more than $200 million for killing 29 miners, while Vermont has managed to rebuild the roads destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene.

Both are examples of the effects of a combination of collective organization and government assistance: the United Mine Workers and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, in the former case; local communities and state and federal government agencies, in the latter.

Quick updates

Posted: 5 September 2011 in Uncategorized
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Here are a couple of quick updates on previous posts:

> A reproduction of Judy Taylor’s 11-panel labor mural, which the governor of Maine removed from the state house in March, is now being shown at the Metropolitan Center for the Visual Arts at Rockville, Maryland.

> Dairy farmers, who were devastated by Tropical Storm Irene, are also being helped out by the “brave little communities of Vermont.”

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Vermont has been devastated by Tropical Storm Irene. People all over the country and around the world have seen the photos and videos. It’s hard not to look and to keep looking. The sheer destructive power of the water is terrifying.

Amazingly, only 3 Vermonters have died from the storm but scores of homes, businesses, and bridges have been destroyed and hundreds of roads washed out. Individual families and whole towns were isolated for days, many without power, telephone or internet connections, and even passable roads in or out.

But there’s something else I think we need to theorize and discuss: the communities that quickly emerged to first survive and help one another and then to begin to reconstruct lives, homes, public buildings, and roads in the aftermath of the storm.

I wasn’t in Vermont during or after the storm but, because I spend a lot of time there, I received personal accounts and was closely following the news (via newspapers and blogs). The stories are amazing, and they’re all a testament to the resilience and solidarity of people who were able to shift into collective ways of being and working in, it seems, an instant.  And this in a country that is as profoundly individualist as it is (where individual, personal gain is often taken to be the only goal), in which coming together to do anything substantial to provide decent jobs for the 26 million people who remain without a job or underemployed or to repair the decaying physical and social infrastructure has been impossible.

Against that background—of enormous natural devastation in Vermont and a country bent on self-destruction—the stories of collectivity in Vermont are even more impressive.

Here are some stories I’ve heard from friends:

  • A neighbor who happened to have a generator, hearing that another neighbor couldn’t keep her insulin cold since the power was off, shut down his generator, threw it into the backup of his pick-up truck, and then drove down the almost-impassable road to restore refrigeration.
  • One couple was stranded without power or telephone in the house of friends, having gone there on a short “vacation”—and, after the storm, without any way of leaving the local community (since the roads in all four directions had been washed out). Neighbors (some living miles away), who hadn’t met them before, stopped in on a daily basis to check in on them and to bring them what they could—vegetables from the garden, a 5-gallon container of water, and so on.
  • The local road was washed out. So, someone in the area who happened to have earth-moving equipment went out to repair the road, in an attempt to make it at least passable, until outside help came in.
  • Someone else, who lived in a less-devastated town, had decided he would join others and hike in—some 6-10 miles—in order to check on people and to deliver emergency supplies.

And, in the town of Rochester (also isolated for days, without food, water, and power), the community came together in other extraordinary ways: groups of people assembled to help owners of destroyed homes salvage what they could of their belongings; the local supermarket gave away its perishables to local residents; an inn served free meals every night; and the town met every day in a local church to discuss the current situation and to decide what needed to be done.

I could go on for pages and pages. My point is, these are all examples of people coming together—without any direction or assistance from the state or national governments, much less assistance from large private corporations—in order to help one another during and after a devastating event. Only later, after days, did the National Guard, public utilities, road crews, and so on appear to assist these local communities. (To be clear: I’m not romanticizing local self-sufficiency. The infrastructure of these towns will only be rebuilt in the coming months with outside assistance.)

Now, I almost didn’t write this post, because I felt the stories were almost too cheesy or heart-warming. But there are some larger issues at stake.

First, of course, is the issue of collectivity itself. In Vermont (but also in many other places, during and after many different kinds of disasters), we witness people coming together in various kinds of collectivities that remain hidden in “normal” everyday life. What is it that keeps such collectivities hidden from view (such that we can refer to the United States as a uniformly individualist nation), and what is that allows them to exist and to flourish (against, it often seems, all odds in a get-what-you-can-as-quickly-as-you-can-and-to-hell-with-the-consequences-for-others capitalist nation)? And how is it that people are able to react and organize so quickly to help one another and to rebuild the infrastructure necessary for the community to survive and to continue?

Second, why is it that mainstream economists, politicians, and others don’t understand—or don’t have the guts or inclination to recognize and support—the power of such collectivities to solve the jobs problem in the United States? Why, a friend remarked when he heard some of these stories, can’t Obama just announce that he’s going to pay the communities who are already doing the work and call it job creation? It’s certainly better than some plan to give tax credits to “job creators” to—perhaps, maybe someday—hire a few more workers. Here we have a collective response that doesn’t need the name of individuals getting a newly created job just for them. And, of course, it’s better than any scheme Keynesians have ever come up with to bury some money and then dig it up.

Back in 1928, a year after the last devastating flood of similar magnitude [video], Calvin Coolidge gave his “brave little Vermont” speech:

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.

During the past week, the communities of Vermont have shown what mainstream economists and politicians in the United States overlook or deny: that people do not have to suffer on their own and that collective solutions can be found to the economic and social devastation this country has suffered during recent years.

State of the day

Posted: 2 September 2011 in Uncategorized
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I can add this one now that Vermonters are making progress in digging out from the disaster.

Stories of Vermont

Posted: 31 August 2011 in Uncategorized
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There are many stories emerging from the ongoing disaster in Vermont in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene. Here’s another of them:

In Rochester:

The White River washed away the town’s electric substation, cutting off power at about 3 p.m. Sunday. A mountain brook at the north end of the village turned into a torrent that swept away one house entirely and undermined the foundation of a second. One section of town, West Rochester, was cut off from the village when a bridge collapsed on Vermont 73, [Sandy] Haas [a resident and the area's state representative] said.

The town’s water system was working, driven by a generator, but water had to be boiled — an impossibility with no power to homes.

In the absence of help from the outside, Rochester residents helped each other.

“People are really pitching in and taking care of each other. It’s really amazing,” Ross Laffan, a longtime resident, said Tuesday by cellphone. “The townspeople and the fire department have just been awesome.”

He said as many as 300 people came to a town meeting Monday and to a second meeting Tuesday, after they were alerted by volunteers who went door to door.

The town’s general store opened Monday to give away its perishable food.

“There were long lines of people,” Laffan said, “And long lines again this morning.”

Four restaurants were providing meals to residents, and volunteers at the Federated Church collected enough food to offer lunch Tuesday.

In Pittsfield:

With the bridges out in Pittsfield, Vermont, and its 400 residents marooned, Wall Street trader Scott Redler took matters into his own hands: He hired a helicopter and was back home in New Jersey yesterday afternoon.

Redler’s family were weekend wedding guests when Hurricane Irene’s heavy rains pushed the Tweed River over its banks, smashing at least 20 homes. With his 65-year-old mother running out of medicine, Redler, T3Live.com’s chief strategist, found a pilot charging $7,000 for the rescue.

“I wasn’t going to wait for the state or federal government,” Redler, 38, said yesterday from his mobile phone as he waited for the chopper. “I can’t trust them, because I know I’m not a priority.”