Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Friday, April 15, 2011

More Hard Times for Liberals

With the limited exception of those of us lucky enough to live in Vermont, this is a lousy time to be a liberal. And it's not going to get any better.

After years of battling Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, Democrats and Progressives in the Legislature have the luxury of working with new Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. While Shumlin has put the kibosh on increasing taxes for the super-rich -- he knows that would be political poison in his first term – he has otherwise set a remarkably progressive tone.

In addition to his persistent opposition to renewing the license for Vermont Yankee and his support of marriage equality, Shumlin is making all the right liberal noises about diversifying agriculture beyond the overemphasis on dairy farms. He's pushing ahead on the long campaign for single-payer healthcare and greater broadband Internet access.

Outside the cozy confines of the Green Mountains, however, the picture is a much darker one.

Pres. Obama’s one liberal accomplishment may prove to be the expansion of affordable healthcare for millions of Americans. Beyond that, his record on hot-button liberal issues, such as "card check" legislation making it easier for unions to organize, is disappointingly thin. The record includes some outright reversals, such as the chickenhearted decision to deny fair and constitutionally mandated trials to many terrorism suspects.

When it comes to foreign policy, the best that can be said about Obama is that he looks like Bush Lite. He seems to feel it's OK to spend $1 billion on a bombing campaign to support a rebel Libyan force that is largely unknown to the U.S. And his weary supporters seem willing to go along, even as Obama further expands executive power at the expense of the constitutional mandate that reserves to Congress the right to make war.

Worse yet, last week's collapse in the face of Republican demands for recovery-crippling cuts in federal spending is probably just another step in a long retreat led by Obama.

While Gov. Shumlin is proving nearly as liberal as he appeared during the campaign, it’s obvious by now that Obama never really was a liberal. He is a charismatic and canny politician, and one of his great political strengths is that he can be many things to many different kinds of people.

That's not lying, by the way. It's called electability in a center-right country.

With conservatives chipping away at healthcare reform, it will be a generation or more before any president is brave or stupid enough to take on healthcare once again. That
means the long-held liberal dream of single-payer healthcare is essentially dead for Baby Boomers.

The Republican assault on government and the Great Society now includes a frontal attack not just on Social Security, but also on Medicare and Medicaid. If it succeeds, the elderly of tomorrow will have to pay for much more of their own healthcare. And let’s not even talk about the fate of the poor who have to rely on Medicaid, where minimal healthcare services are diminishing and even disappearing.

The middle class will also take it on the chin. Do you appreciate knowing your commercial plane won’t crash in flight? The Federal Aviation Authority is facing millions in cutbacks that will affect its ability to help ensure flight safety.

Got a kid who might need financial aid to get through college? Education Pell grants are on the chopping block, too.

The persistent cry from conservatives is that we can't afford these kinds of services anymore. Yet emerging unscathed from all of the budget-cutting discussions is the "defense" budget.

With Obama’s recent decision to bomb Libya, the US is now involved in three wars. As satirist Andy Borowitz noted, even if the government were to shut down in a budget dispute, the US would continue to provide government services to Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Neither party seems willing to ask if the bloated military budget, which grew by more than 7 percent last year, could be cut as we try to bring down federal spending. Yet U.S. military spending has nearly doubled in the last decade and is six times greater than that of China, which ranks second. (Source: the respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute).

Even most Democrats have given up on questioning the continuing occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now the old social issues are back on the table, too.

One of the debates that nearly shut down the government last weekend was the GOP's push to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood. That was allegedly done to curb Planned Parenthood's ability to provide abortions. But the organization receives no federal funding for abortions and, according to the Guttmacher Institute, taxpayer-financed support for family planning prevented nearly 2 million unwanted pregnancies in 2006.

Cutting funding to Planned Parenthood would only increase the number of women who choose to terminate their pregnancies.

The Republican majority, heavily financed by the US Chamber of Commerce and other conservative special interests, has bought into the myth that global warming isn't real.
The GOP threatened to shut down the government in part over the party’s insistence that the EPA stop regulating the carbon emissions that are a primary cause of climate change.

I wish I could find a silver lining in all these dark clouds. The reality, though, is that liberalism and activist government continue their long sunset in America.

If that’s ever to change, we’ll have to endure the failure of drastic budget cuts and the human and environmental toll that will follow. Maybe it will take a couple more environmental disasters like Hurricane Katrina. A Supreme Court majority that decides to outlaw abortion would wake up a lot of women to what's been going on.

In the meantime, I'm holing up in the Green Mountains.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Confessions of a Green Mountain addict

My name is Greg and I am a Vermontaholic. This is my story.

As with so many other Vermontaholics, my addiction started in childhood.

They say that parents should keep their kids away from the hard stuff, and that was certainly true in my case. I'm one of many for whom, at a tragically young age, the gateway drug was skiing.

I could handle it OK when my parents took me skiing near home in central New York State.

Even in the Adirondacks at Whiteface and Big Tupper, I didn't get addicted.

But when they turned me on to hard-core skiing at Sugarbush and Mad River, well, that's when my lifelong habit began.

Given how addicted I had become to Vermont, it's astounding that my otherwise intelligent parents would have, when the time came, let me come to college here.

And what were they thinking, sending me to a college that had its own ski area?

Once I got here, of course, I became completely hooked. I spent my weekends mainlining on the Allen and Ross trails. I conned my friends into borrowing their family's car so we could ditch classes in May and go to Glen Ellen.

Like any addict, I denied the toll that my Vermontaholism was taking on my relationships. I neglected my studies and my girlfriend. I lied about my plans so I could sneak away and spend even more time on the slopes.

One point I want to get across here is that people who haven't been through it don't realize how, once you get addicted to Vermont, it just takes over your entire life.

Soon it wasn't enough that I could ski 40 days a winter. I started hiking whenever there wasn't snow. After work I would get on my bicycle and ride down to the Whiting quarry -- not to look at the naked women sunbathing there, but to immerse myself in the sweet soothing waters of my adopted state.

Sometimes, sitting outdoors with friends and looking at the Green Mountains, I would just stop in midsentence and admire the jaw-dropping beauty around me.

I didn't care what that did to my friendships. It didn't bother me if everyone thought I was a space case who smoked too much Vermont green, or that I cared more for Mother Nature more than my own mother.

By the time I was 25, though, even I had to admit I had a problem. My love of Vermont was so great, the compulsion to be here so overwhelming, that I had to acknowledge a sad fact:
If I didn't try to break the addiction and do something else with my life, I would end up forever hooked on the Green Mountain State.

In the face of this realization I took the most drastic step I could think of: I moved to Southern California.

There, in the land of endless summer and surfer babes, I began to break the hold Vermont had on my life.

I found new friends who surfed and had never been on skis. Some of them had never even seen snow. I got a newspaper job where, in that semidesert by the beach, I could go an entire year without writing an article that had the words "Vermont" or "green" in them. I exchanged mountain gaps and dirt roads for beach paths and freeways.

I told myself I was cured.

The thing about being a Vermontaholic, though, is that it never really leaves you. Once the craving is in your blood -- once you've experienced the cold prick of winter's needle or felt the soothing coolness of an organic Wolaver’s Stovepipe Porter at the end of a double-gap bike ride -- you know you’ll always be jonesing for Vermont.

Powerless in the face of my addiction, I finally moved back here some years ago.

But I think I finally have things under control.

It's not as if I can't get through the day without doing something quintessentially Vermont. Sometimes whole weeks go by where all I do is work in my office, barely even looking out the window.

I’ve learned not to let my habit control me, and I can go without it when I have to. Last weekend, for example, I didn’t go snowboarding even though the peaks were smothered in white. This weekend I’m abandoning the state altogether to go to Utah.

Now and then, I’ll admit, I do pour a little too much fancy maple syrup on my French toast, which is made with Gleason-grain bread and the eggs of cage-free local hens. I'm been known to consume massive quantities of Champlain Orchards apple cider and Misty Knoll chicken.

But I don’t crumble anymore at the thought of going to Boston, or even California. I know I can always come back here.

I guess you could call me a functioning Vermontaholic.