I was surprised to read Kevin Kelley’s article heckling border guards who confiscated his rum and cigars, T-shirts and necklaces purchased in Cuba [“A Seven Days Reporter Finds Getting to Cuba Easier Than Returning,” January 27]. Heck, any cross-border traveler I know is aware that you aren’t even supposed to bring back Cuban rum or Cohibas purchased in Montréal! You’re surprised? It seems to me that a little research would have given you a heads up. Information about what you can and cannot bring in and out of country is easily available in travel guides, online sites and through word of mouth. You were correct not to lie at the border. But, to taunt the guards with flagrant contraband, then write an article complaining about their behavior, suggests an arrogance that does little to help open up communication and travel. I look forward to the end of the antiquated Cold War embargo on Cuba. In the meantime, educate yourself about any country you are traveling to, and if you don’t want to be hassled at the border, respect the rules! Even Leahy’s office can’t protect you from ignorance.
Get the Facts
I was shocked — shocked! — to discover in your Vermont media lead story that the Sunday Rutland Herald and Times Argus folded [“We’ve Got News for You,” January 27]. Why was I proofing pages for the Sunday paper last Friday at 2 a.m. when I could have been sipping a cool one at Charlie O’s in the capital?! Plagiarizing Mark Twain, let’s say rumors of the paper’s demise are highly exaggerated. Also Nick Monsarrat, cited in the Vermont Digger story, was longtime editorial page editor at the Times Argus, not the Rutland Herald. (Nothing worse than wading into the word pit of journalism, where nitpickers roam and memories are long.)
But seriously, thanks for profiling the state of Vermont’s media, such as it is. While I applaud the heroic, motivated and mostly unpaid efforts of my former colleague Anne Galloway and other downsized, downwardly mobile journalists, your story only highlights what those of us in the business already know: Reporting news, getting below the surface, doing investigative journalism takes a lot of effort, and that takes money.
Sadly, the media isn’t being “reinvented” by these folks’ altruism: It’s barely hanging on, the essential need for reporting the people’s business still in search of a valid funding model. If you want to know what’s going on at 4-hour council meetings, in the important arcana of utility hearings or in the bowels of the court system, or if you want to unearth injustice and right wrongs, it takes skilled journalists and editors with institutional memory, time, training and passion. And they can’t work for (almost) free forever. After over three decades as an editor and journalist, I’m hardly alone among my colleagues in thinking we’re amply proving the old cliché: “You can’t get something for nothing.” That does not bode well for Vermont, or our democracy.
Editor’s Note: Last week’s paper corrected the erroneous report about the “folding” of the Times Argus and Rutland Herald. The words “Sunday Magazine” were inexplicably dropped in the proofreading process.
Stealing is Wrong
No matter what, it’s stealing [“Vermont Legislators Admit to Cheating the System. Are They Justified?” February 3]. How dare legislators try and justify it by saying the pay is low. People in the private sector would be fired and prosecuted.
Legislators Make $52,360
These folks ran for office to do public service, not to get rich [“Vermont Legislators Admit to Cheating the System. Are They Justified?” February 3]. Seems many of them are confused in that area of distinction. Too bad. For the millions of folks out of a job in this state and across the country, some discretion might be called for, rather than the arrogant attitude of Mr. Zuckerman. If he truly is losing money at his “farm,” then perhaps he should stay home and do the work himself, if he is suggesting that to do so would give him more $$.
I think not, though; it seems he is just plain greedy. Who does he think is paying the taxes to pay his salary? Now let us do the math: $101 per night for four nights, Monday-Thursday, equals $404, per week. $61 a day for five days is another $305, for $709 for the week! Not to mention the pay that they get, $600 a week for every week they are in session. Twenty weeks times $600 + $709 ($1309) equals not $16,000 but $26,180. Not bad for less than half a year. If they were in town for the year, that is $52,360…
Spend and Tax?
The article states that, “The 38-year-old farmer justifies collecting more for mileage and food than he actually spends by considering it as part of his overall compensation.”
If these expenses are income, does he report it to the IRS as income? If not, I would like Mr. Zuckerman to answer why not.
Editor’s note: Zuckerman had better, because legislative pay and reimbursements are reportable income. However, not all reimbursements are taxable. Reimbursements for lawmakers who live within 50 miles of Montpelier are taxed, but reimbursements paid to legislators who live more than 50 miles from Montpelier are nontaxable. Go figure.
Last week’s story about legislative reimbursements didn’t tell the whole story about room rates at the Capital Plaza Hotel. Your average Joe pays $116 for a night at the Capital. The “government rate” for state and federal employees is $101. Vermont lawmakers get the same thing for $85, plus tax, which comes to $92.65 a night. The lodging reimbursement for legislators is $101 a day.
After reading “We’ve Got News” [January 27], I came away thinking that if this interesting group of online journalists could find a way to pool their resources and work together, they’d pretty much have what most people are looking for in a local news source these days. Throw in the Vermont Journalism Trust consortium idea, and we might just be witnessing the next generation of journalism in Vermont.
I am writing in response to the last “Facing Facts” in the January 13 issue of Seven Days. You write, “Texting on a cellphone may have caused a head-on collision that killed two young men last week on the Burlington Beltline. The message? Outlaw this dangerous activity now.”
To date, the cause of that accident is unknown, and an investigation is still ongoing. It may very well turn out that texting was the cause, but that has not yet been determined. Reporting that it “may” have been the cause is not good journalism, and is particularly inappropriate for a column called “Facing Facts.” The only fact we know so far is that this was a tragic accident that took the lives of two young men and it isn’t fair to use this accident to make a point about texting when you have no evidence that texting was involved.
I think it is disrespectful to the families of the victims for you to be repeating unsubstantiated rumors. If you had waited a little longer for the actual facts to come out to write this, you could report what the facts really are.
Leah M. Jones
I was disappointed by Shay Totten’s portrayal of the secession candidates’ January 15 press conference [“Fair Game,” January 20]. Despite Shay’s assertion, neither Dr. Naylor nor anyone else “blamed the Jews”; instead, they critiqued Israel’s repression of the Palestinians and the way the American government aids and abets those atrocities through billions in military aid. To equate such criticisms with “blaming the Jews” (the subtext, of course, being antisemitism) is both misleading to your readers and insulting to all those who have been victims of real antisemitism. Seven Days is generally a great paper; I hope Mr. Totten will apologize for his deceptive statement, and look forward to reading fair accounts of Mr. [Dennis] Steele’s campaign in the future.
Cropp is Dennis Steele’s campaign manager.
Out of Afghanistan
President Karzai’s fraudulent election is indeed a setback for the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan [“Vermont’s Peter Galbraith Calls U.S.-Afghan Military Mission a ‘Quagmire,’” January 13]. But the lack of a credible client regime lies with the occupation itself rather than mistakenly supporting Karzai.
Obama’s war strategy is a mix of reliance on Afghan government forces, counterinsurgency, and payoffs and alliances with warlords and tribal leaders. The surge now puts 100,000 troops, mercenaries and about $100 billion for 2010 into the war. It is unavoidable that bombing people and supporting corrupt, thuggish warlords begets hostility toward the occupying forces and catalyzes resistance.
Putting aside rhetoric about development, women’s rights, democracy and the “war or terror,” the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan since arming the Mujahideen against Russia in the 1980s has been shaped by the goal of installing a pro-U.S. government. The real mission is projecting U.S. power into oil- and gas-rich Central Asia.
Galbraith knows a lot about such calculations. The New York Times reported in November that Galbraith’s cheerleading for the ethnic partitioning of Iraq and his role as adviser for Kurdish interests in constitutional negotiations positioned him to potentially earn $100 million or more through his relations with a Norwegian oil company jockeying for business in northern Iraq.
The Vermont Guard deployed to Afghanistan are unfortunately sent to extend U.S. imperial reach. The rest of us don’t have anything to gain from continuing the war, either. Rather than arguing about how to rescue and prolong the occupation, we should be demanding the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces.
You Can’t Weasel Out of It
As an animal lover, I’m gratified that Red Square “loves weasels.” Too bad they don’t know that their [January 27] ad actually features a prairie dog. Can I recommend the New England Guide to Mammals?