VPR Commentary

The Comforts of a Mediocre Education

It’s no secret that many colleges and prep schools are in financial trouble. Accrediting organizations predict a significant number of institutional failures in the next decade. We even feel the pain here in Vermont but, understandably, no one wants to discuss it, as any faint whiff of distress further discourages applications. The college value equation has been eroding for decades. Total private college costs average $45,000 annually, $20,000 at in-state colleges. Accounting for payments, discounts and scholarships, average college graduates carry $37,000 worth of debt. And in return, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to which the U.S. subscribes, we rank thirtieth in math and nineteenth in science among the thirty-five sponsoring countries. Access to a free …
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The Vegas Shootout: Yes, Let’s Politicize it.

When I was eight, I took the NRA safety and target training at a camp in Maine. Two years later, my parents gave me a Winchester .22 long rifle. We kids would peddle our bikes up to the dump after it closed on Saturday to “pop” rats. During deer season the high school boys brought their 30.06s to school and left them in the principal’s office so they could hunt right after school before sundown. Today, our property is the only one in the neighborhood not “posted.” We have friends who hunt here and we welcome them. We have two old hunting guns in the house, and believe in hunting for food, sport, and to manage our wildlife populations. But …
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Who Will Save Us from Ourselves?

As humans, we’re living in a time when our evolutionary capacity as humans to understand, regulate, and use technological innovation in a way beneficial to mankind and our planetary home is simply overwhelmed by the relentless speed of discovery and invention. While civilization is about six thousand years old, it was the industrial age that first started taxing our management capacity as humans some hundred and seventy years ago. Our understanding of natural phenomenon and therefore the pace of technical change accelerated greatly between 1850 and 1950 and has only sped up since that time. Technology, like biology, is an evolutionary process. Only the fit, or in the case of technology, the functional, survive to potentiate new waves of invention …
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Understanding and Reducing Poverty

In Vermont’s early years, poverty was managed by an elected “Overseer of the Poor” until we passed the Social Welfare Act of 1967, which formally relieved communities of responsibility for care of their poor and ended the office of “Overseer.” The last “poor farm” closed in 1968. Growing up in a middle-class family in Lamoille County, I knew people who were poor – though they’d have hardly described themselves that way. Many were grateful for the little they had and took both pleasure and pride in work, family, food, and neighbors. My father ran the small Union Carbide office in Morrisville and was twice offered a whopping raise to move to Manhattan, but declined each time. His life was defined …
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Getting Closer in Vermont…Affordable Health Care for All.

When I was young, Morrisville had three doctors, two dentists and the wood-framed, four-story, Copley Hospital, which had the town’s first elevator. Theoretically, there was competition, but price wasn’t the criteria by which we chose our providers, it was familiarity and trust. All docs pretty much charged the same for an office visit. Our doctor was our trusted friend and on his advice, we went to Burlington for major surgeries or life-threatening illnesses. In the ‘70s, when cities became employment and retail hubs connected by new highways, community hospitals began to compete for patients. Medical technology became a marketing edge but also a major cost-escalator. If Newport got the newest M.R.I., then St Albans wanted it as well. New medical …
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“We have met the enemy and… “

Like many, I wake up each morning and check online news sources for the latest read on the health of our nation. Like the addictive eater I am, I gobble up the latest ethical transgression, human rights abuse, crony favor, or governmental misbehavior. This menu of public service abuses sets the baseline for my thoughts, mood, and conversations for the day and I take satisfaction in thinking how right I am and how wrong so many of my fellow citizens are. It’s like scanning the country’s electronic medical record so I can keep up-to-date on its wellbeing. But then I remember that it’s rarely the acute medical event that ends our lives. The heart attack, accident trauma, or stroke may …
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Burlington College: Politics or Governance?

I’ve been watching the national effort to politicize Burlington College’s demise and am saddened by the venality of our politics and our dangerous ignorance of non-profit governance. It’s endemic in Vermont. Where too many of our major non-profits have limped through a decade or two of un-reviewed leadership performance, mission decay, and disconnection from constituents because their boards have no idea what the obligations and liabilities of board members are or even what board service means. I won’t dwell on the details of Burlington College except to say that the entire fault lies with the Board. It can be said that Jane Sanders has a checkered history leading colleges, but all presidents serve at the will of their boards. It’s …
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Stay the Course in Vermont Healthcare

How quickly we forget. Just short of four decades ago, Vermont policymakers decided that a competitive healthcare system had not lowered healthcare costs, but was, in fact, driving costs up, as hospitals vied for more expensive technology and market share. The relationship between our thirteen community hospitals and our tertiary-care hospitals – then Fletcher Allen and Dartmouth – were tortured and riddled with expense. We decided that a citizen-regulated monopoly would better constrain costs, regulating towards a more cost – efficient and accessible network of integrated healthcare facilities, spanning sole practitioners, community clinics, community and tertiary care hospitals. And it worked. Looking at measures of access, prevention and treatment, avoidable hospital use, costs, healthy lives and equity, the Commonwealth Fund …
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Puccini in Middlebury

From as early as I can remember, I’ve been an opera buff. I remember sitting in the orchestra section at the Old Metropolitan Opera House on 39th and Broadway and hearing the great mid-century singers. My great-grandmother Selma was having a platonic affair with Caruso. My Aunt Rose hung out with the greats of the time: Gueden, Schwarzkopf, Kunz, and Jerome Hines. My fervid childish imagination lit up at the live passion, violence, and madness on stage that made the comics littering Al Melendy’s barbershop in Morrisville seem pale by comparison. One afternoon after seeing an Aida with my grandmother, the head of the Opera Guild, the fan club for the well-heeled, ushered us backstage to meet the diva, Galina …
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When reverence for our past blinds us to our future….

I love Vermont. I’ve lived here seventy years, and like my father, I’ve turned down opportunities to move away and earn more money. But I don’t trust the Vermont myth of ‘exceptionalism.’ We’re a microcosm of the world around us. Our communities and our natural, working, and built environments make us a wonderful place to live, but I worry that our tendency toward self-adulation calcifies belief systems that often impede our progress. Change happens whether we like it or not and it’s critical to understand and accommodate it without compromising our values. To ignore change puts our future at risk. I love a well-framed barn, in fact, my first home was one. I love and use hand-made tools. But I …
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