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Letters to the Editor (4/29/20)

Published April 29, 2020 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated May 12, 2020 at 4:45 p.m.

Tech Check

How many times have we heard about computer failure and crashes in state government ["Mainframe of Shame," April 22]? Isn't it way past time for the legislature to find some money to replace the old mainframe with new, up-to-date technology?

Paul Hoffman


Does Not Compute

[Re "Mainframe of Shame," April 22]: If the State of Vermont had done the necessary upkeep on the mainframe over the years and upgraded to the necessary software releases for COBOL, the "aging" infrastructure would not have been overwhelmed. Cloud computing is not the savior. This is a dishonest article that has little basis in reality.

Megan Williams


Missing Margot and Rick

While I don't always agree with your movie reviewers, I always value their opinions. I've been reading Rick Kisonak's reviews seemingly forever and love both his opinions and his writing style. Margot Harrison is also excellent. Why not have them continue reviewing content from streaming and other video providers? It would be appreciated.

Richard Guttman

Kirkland, Québec

Editor's note: Margot Harrison will be back at Seven Days — and writing about movies — next week.

'Act of Supreme Provocation'

[Re Off Message: "Amid Backlash, VSC Chancellor Withdraws Plan to Close Three Campuses," April 22, and related stories]: Hats off to Jeb Spaulding for an act of supreme provocation. No more kicking Vermont's shameful underfunding of higher education under the rug. Unless the legislature, the governor and all Vermonters reevaluate our commitment to education — and also to medical care for middle-class and low-income people — we will become more and more a playground for the wealthy supported by a service economy of native Vermonters and immigrants.

I don't have much, but I am willing to pay more taxes and tighten my belt to live in a more equitable society. If we as a state became the model American experiment in social democracy, the immigration of talent that would move into our state would more than make up for the exit of those who do not want to share their individual wealth for the benefit of the whole. So come on, all of us who are painting Spaulding as the devil incarnate for suggesting an intolerable solution to an impossible situation; we should instead thank him for forcing us to finally consider how we must pay the cost of what we seek to preserve.

David Schein


'Less Students = Less Money = Tough Decisions'

[Re Off Message: "Amid Backlash, VSC Chancellor Withdraws Plan to Close Three Campuses," April 22, and related stories]: The chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges System dropped a bomb last week when he proposed closing three state colleges to address the ongoing budget crisis. The fact that many reacted with alarm is understandable. But the tone of indignation and "kill the messenger" responses are not helpful.

The original version of the article noted that "the board delayed action for at least a week in light of widespread opposition, including from lawmakers who have raced to buy the state time to consider alternatives." Without chancellor Jeb Spaulding's dramatic proposal, do you really think the state would be "racing" to find a better solution right now, especially while in the midst of a historic public health and economic crisis? Sometimes this is what it takes to get people's full attention. 

This is not a new problem, as three Vermont colleges demonstrated vividly just last year. And addressing it will require bold changes. The basic math here is: Less Students = Less Money = Tough Decisions. The key takeaway is, yes, it's much worse than you thought. We have to be willing to consider solutions that would be disruptive and painful. The best we can do is to be open to considering unconventional ideas while looking for ways to minimize the damage to students, employees and college communities. Come to think of it, we could use that same shift in thinking to address our local school budget situations, too. The basic math is exactly the same.

Peter Straube


Sound Barrier

It was interesting to read the quotes from Col. Dave Shevchik in [Off Message: "Data Show Vermont Air Guard F-35 Flights Spiked in April," April 24]. Can national security and transparency ever be compatible? I sort of doubt it.

The planes are alarmingly loud, and unless the Guard can place them elsewhere, people cannot stop complaining — and they shouldn't. It has been established that the noise is harmful and children are suffering. No one can tell them to ignore it six times a day. They can't ignore it.

I also enjoyed the supportive letter from Cathy Chamberlain [Feedback: "Hear Them Roar," April 22]. The noise warms her heart and makes her feel good. She says it's "the sound of freedom," and if that had not become a cliché, I might have believed she meant it. My question is: Don't the birds in the trees or a summer breeze also sound like freedom? Why must it be a really loud jet? Her hearing may be impaired — and if she's in the flight path, that's a perfect place for her.  

However, she cannot advise us all to hear it that way. If someone yells in your face, it might reach 105 decibels. I have a decibel meter. If I yell at it from six inches away, loud enough to reach someone across the street, or loud enough to get the attention of a truck that's about to back into your car, it's 105 decibels. That's about as loud as a modern car horn — but for minutes at a time.  

That's the sound of freedom. Pardon?

Charlie Messing


Sound of Waste

[Re Feedback: "Hear Them Roar," April 22]: 'The sound of freedom'? Nah, that's the sound of our tax dollars being rung up in the private coffers of the megacorporations termed the "military-industrial complex." Truth is, the U.S. spends more money on war than the next 13 highest-spending countries combined. The F-35 is exhibit No. 1 in the argument for why we don't have adequate universal health care, affordable higher education for our children and similar nice things enjoyed by people in other economically developed countries.

Keeping us safe? We already have more COVID-19 cases and deaths than any other country on the planet, and we're teetering on the verge of economic catastrophe without the safeguards provided by most European nations, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In case anyone's unaware, the U.S. is the wealthiest but most unequal of comparable countries. I don't see F-35s protecting "We the People" from these very real threats.

Guess I don't share the same enthusiasm for these hideously expensive killing machines as some of my neighbors.

Brian J. Walsh


Rape Is Rape

I want to thank you for using the correct term, "rape," in this article [Off Message: "'Dark Cloud' Over St. Albans PD After Officer Charged With Rape," April 21]. You are setting a good example. I'm so very tired of seeing media downplay sex crimes through euphemisms.

Julia Curry


What About Church Street?

Recently the bus stop shelters on Burlington's Cherry Street, across from the "hole," were dismantled and taken away. That made sense since no buses stopped there. More importantly, though, it prevented the homeless from hanging out, often blocking the sidewalk and spewing endless cigarette smoke that pedestrians had to go through. In addition, the police don't have to be called for the regular fights in that area anymore.

But that's Cherry Street. What about Church Street? This is an attractive thoroughfare for both residents and tourists, but there's a caveat: no enforcement of rules. When you do see "patrols," they're always in pairs, chatting with their eyes on the ground. They never say, "Hey, can't you read the signs: No smoking, cycling or skateboarding?!"

Fines? One resident said that since these things usually get thrown out in court, nobody will lift a finger. "Hey, man, don't you know Burlington's a do-your-own-thing place?!" Freedumb. Yeah, I dig it. 

Tom MacDonald


Foreign Policy, Anyone?

[Re Last 7: "Bernie's New Bro," April 15]: I was disappointed that there was no mention of foreign policy in the list of six policies that vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders agree on. This stands in the face of our country recently walking out of a nuclear treaty with Russia, implementing a program to militarize space, having more than 7,000 punitive sanctions on countries around the world, placing a bounty on the head of the elected president of Venezuela, fostering regime change, and promulgating misinformation to incite suspicion of China, Russia, Venezuela ... etc., etc.

All this is based on the idea of "U.S. über alles." This isolationist policy has caused us to lose standing in international affairs, and it will leave us in the dust. Yet American voters, fed by biased and terribly superficial news coverage, accept the above and continue to pay for their more than $700 billion price tag for "defense."

Does it not concern you that the middle class is decreasing in our country and increasing in China? I grieve for my country. 

Brenda Waters


Home Disadvantage

[Re Off Message: "In First Turn of 'Spigot,' Scott to Allow Some Vermont Businesses to Reopen," April 17]: The governor's decision to allow face-to-face real estate showings during the stay-at-home order reflects a lack of understanding of the realities of the real estate industry and undermines public health recommendations. Going into homes at this time endangers not only Realtors but also our communities.

Our job involves significant contact that is challenging to avoid. We go into homes and touch all sorts of things, including doorknobs and light switches. 

To get in, we use a lockbox accessed by other Realtors. For a popular listing, that lockbox will likely be touched more than a dozen times in a day by different people. Realtors then touch the same doors, the same light switches and breathe the same air. For occupied properties, owners come home to a confined space that has been visited by up to several dozen people over the course of the day. 

There are other, safer ways our business can continue to operate during this time — such as allowing us to do pre-listing work like taking photos and virtual tours and to service pending transactions.

However, permitting us to go into occupied properties with clients poses unnecessary risk. Even though it is optional, it forces Realtors to choose between their livelihood and their — and the community's — health. It also disadvantages real estate professionals who are parents of young children who have no current childcare option, and those with preexisting health conditions. 

The governor should revisit his decision and create a policy in line with public health recommendations. 

Pallas Ziporyn

South Burlington

Ziporyn is a Realtor with Element Real Estate.

Nothing 'Normal' About It

[Re Off Message: "Scott Further Loosens Business Restrictions as Spread of Virus Slows," April 24, and related stories]: The old propaganda machine is cranking away at full bore. And, unfortunately, we're all buying into it. The nonstop chatter is: "We need to get back to normal; we can't wait to get back to normal; normal is the new goal."

Perhaps the most prudent choice would be to not go back to normal. The normalcy of an inadequate and poorly run health care system and an inept government, and the normalcy of income inequality, which is way out of balance; the normalcy of people who are now receiving our praise and admiration slipping back into the shadows — people like grocery store workers, garbage collectors, janitors, housekeepers, truck drivers, delivery people, nurses, nurses' aides, doctors, EMTs and factory workers.

Instead of slipping back into normalcy, we now have the opportunity to make changes that will better allow us to deal with future episodes like this — episodes which will need to be faced by not only our country but the world at large.

Robert Varga

Isle La Motte

Humane Beings

There are massive moral risks when a system as brutal and fragile as incarceration is the primary solution to problems in our state and country ["Freedom Fighters," April 15]. Societies and bureaucracies decide to take away people's freedom, and now that there is a pandemic, we cannot shy away from a central question: Do we admit that incarceration was not as critical as claimed — and ethically release as many people as possible — or do we double down and sentence some incarcerated people to extrajudicial maiming or death by virus?

Northwest State Correctional Facility is only one very visible example of how punitive sentencing can mutate into something even more horrific. I don't see why the incarcerated should bear the burden of an inadequate health response during a crisis. These times are extraordinary, but the state made the health of incarcerated people its responsibility when it took those people's independence away. This should be an opportunity to reduce the prison population and adapt to the reality that such systems are rarely just.

Furthermore, what is being done about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations and facilities in Vermont? Notoriously cruel immigration forces continue to act like secret police, hunting human beings and increasing viral risk for many. ICE is being sued across the country due to its negligence regarding COVID-19 and confirmed cases inside its facilities, yet it continues to operate with far less transparency and few protections for the detained. Evolving beyond incarceration is the only humane option.

Dan Quigley


Burn This

Kevin McCallum's article ["Carbon Quandary," October 9, 2019] and Brian Forrest's letter [Feedback: "No Burn," March 4] remind us that there is no such thing as "carbon neutral" — a self-deception that has polluted Vermont's politics for years.

McCallum presents accounting for biomass carbon emissions as "new thinking." He is being too polite. Just as we were aware of our unpreparedness for pandemics, and our awareness of global warming is now measurable in centuries (one since Svante Arrhenius, 1.5 since Eunice Newton Foote and nearly two since Joseph Fourier), everyone has known that burning trees is a bad idea.

Everyone? Certainly everyone who should know: regulators, utilities, environmentalists, power producers, legislators. In Vermont Public Service Board Docket 5611 (circa 1992), biomass was one of many forms of electrical generation examined for environmental externalities. Everyone knew that burning wood emits at least as much carbon dioxide as burning coal.

A point made by both McCallum and Forrest is spot-on: A district heating system based on the McNeil Generating Station would keep that plant in operation, something that cannot be allowed to happen. Obsolete and standing in the way of climate progress, McNeil deserves prompt closure.

Peter Duval



Last week's news story "Mainframe of Shame" inaccurately described John Quinn's role in state government. He is the chief information officer.

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