Sunday, December 31, 2006

Change From the Inside Out

In lieu of making a laundry list of New Year's resolutions that I probably won't keep, I decided I would choose one global crisis and write about how we can try to address this issue at the personal, local, national, and global level. I have chosen the issue of global warming, more accurately referred to by scientists as climate change.

Climate change is an issue that has received plenty of news coverage in the United States, but not nearly enough action. What's the hold up? Your favorite coping mechanism and mine- DENIAL.

The bad news is, we are already pretty deep into the quicksand of climate change. The good news is, we can do something about climate change. While it may be too late to reverse all of the damage we have done, we can at least put the breaks on climate change and slow down this global catastrophe that could potentially turn Florida into an underwater scuba diving site and Stowe, Vermont into a beach resort.

For any of you who may be skeptical that global warming is actually happening, here's some's information from, the website connected to Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth.

The vast majority of scientists agree that global warming is real, it’s already happening and that it is the result of our activities and not a natural occurrence.1 The evidence is overwhelming and undeniable.

We’re already seeing changes. Glaciers are melting, plants and animals are being forced from their habitat, and the number of severe storms and droughts is increasing.

The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years.2
Malaria has spread to higher altitudes in places like the Colombian Andes, 7,000 feet above sea level.3
The flow of ice from glaciers in Greenland has more than doubled over the past decade.4
At least 279 species of plants and animals are already responding to global warming, moving closer to the poles.5

There are some who will still deny the crisis of global warming. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), outgoing chairman of the Committe on Public Works and the Environment, has made a name for himself, by calling global warming, "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the the American people." You can read Inhoff's climate change update speech in its entirety, presented to the senate on January 4, 2005. The whole thing is pretty frightening so, if your political views are anything like my own, you might want to got get yourself a glass of wine before you start reading.

If you still think that global warming is a hoax, you should probably stop reading here, call your grandma or someone at least thirty years older than you and ask them if they have seen a dramatic change in climate in their lifetime.

Good, now that Al Gore and/or Grandma have convinced you that global warming is a reality, let's talk about action . We'll start at the personal/individual level since that is the part that is most difficult for our "all about me" American culture. Since this blog is already pretty long, I will write about the local, national, and global level over the next week.

What? Driving makes you feel free, you say. When you hit the road, it's like you're the only one in the world? Guess what? You're not. Just look at your fuel gauge. Have you ever seen it go up after you have driven 150 miles? The only way to bring that fuel gauge back up for most cars (except cars that run on veggie oil) is to go to a corporate gas station and pump your car full of gas that has been sucked out of the earth. The desire for this "energizing" fossil fuel is the cause of violence around the world. Just look at the War in Iraq. It is pretty clear at this point, as the civil war escalates in Iraq and 3,000 th American soldier is declared dead, that we are not there to restore democracy. We are securing access to oil supplies.

OK, so you agree, but how can I drive less. Here are some steps to cut down on driving.

1. Shop Local: Shopping locally is a win-win situation. See my pre-holiday posts process versus product and Liberal Coffee, Independent Books, and Smart Dogs and about this topic. Most big-box stores such as Wal-Mart or Target are not located in a pedestrian friendly area. Many of them are inaccessible to public transportation. So, the only way to get there, is in the four-wheeled oil burner. Even if you live close to one of these retail calamities, once you get there, you will have the pleasure of driving around in circles, looking for a place to park your individual-mobile next thousands of others. If you're anxiety level rises high enough during this search for a parking spot, you may be lucky enough to flee your car without looking where you parked it. When you're finished buying all the plastic shit that can fit in your car, you will have the pleasure of walking a great distance around the not-so-scenic parking lot looking for your car. I imagine the freedom factor associated with that automobile will have worn out by then.

Here's another scenario. Live in a community that supports a vibrant downtown, where you can either walk, bike, or take public transportation to family-owned retail businesses. Even if the products cost a little more, you will save money on gas and therapy bills. With that extra money, you can go meet a friend for lunch. Now, that sounds like freedom!

2. Carpool: The reality is many of us have to drive, particularly to get to our jobs. The industrial parks where many jobs are located are rarely connected to public transportation. If you are in this situation, try carpooling. You can find someone to carpool with by putting up a sign in the staff lunchroom, putting up a notice at your local grocery store or co-op, or sending out that dreaded all-staff e-mail. I do not recommend hitchhiking as a way to find someone to carpool with.

3. Quit your job, sell your car, and live off the government: It might do them good to have a taste of their own medicine. (Warning: Do not blame me if this plan doesn't work)

Let me know how these suggestions go, particularly if you choose #3

I have a few more suggestions, but I need to go take a walk. Check back over the next week for more suggestions on what you can do to combat global warming/climate changing.

In the meantime, here are some interesting articles to read on this topic.

James Howard Kunstler's article entitled Making Other Arrangements the most recent issue of Orion (my favorite magazine)

Bill McKibben's article entitled Energizing America in the most recent issue of Sierra magazine.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

John Edwards and Matt Dunne Connection

John Edwards announced today that he is running for president in 2008. He made this announcement while standing amidst residents of one of the most devastated neighborhoods in New Orleans, the lower ninth ward, where he was involved in a volunteer project with local residents to rebuild one of the many homes that had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. John Edwards states his perspective on the upcoming campaign on his website. "It is a campaign not just about what we can do in the White House, but what we can do on the way. " Good idea. A campaign trail should be littered with more than credit card receipts and press conferences.

Does this volunteering on the campaign trail sound familiar to any Vermonters? It does to me. This "activist" campaign strategy that John Edwards is outlining seems quite similar to that of Matt Dunne's during his campaign for Lieutenent Governor of Vermont. As you may recall, Matt Dunne focused much of his campaign energy on what came to be known as "service politics." While on the campaign trail, Matt Dunne and his supporters volunteered around Vermont, putting their ideas to work by building a bike trail in North Branch Park, sorting donated groceries at the Vermont Food Bank, and digging up potatoes at Food Works farm. Matt Dunne spent a lot of his time "doing" instead of "talking about doing". John Edwards website shows that he may also try to run a campaign with a little more elbow grease than most presidential candidates.

So, after jogging my memory a little bit, I realized that the connection between the politics of Matt Dunne and John Edwards should come as no surprise. Back in February, Matt Dunne invited Edwards to be the keynote speaker at a conference in Vermont entitled "United Against Poverty". Here is what Matt had to said about Edwards back in February.

"Poverty remains a critical issue facing Vermont," said Sen. Dunne. "We have some of the most innovative organizations in the country leading the charge in the fight against poverty. Senator Edwards has dedicated his efforts to the issues of poverty since his bid for Vice President, and I am delighted that he has chosen to join us for a day to take stock of where we are, share strategies, and determine ways to make our efforts more successful in ensuring that every Vermonter has a chance to succeed."

Sounds like Edwards and Dunne have a lot in common. I've been wondering what Matt Dunne is up to after his busy campaign season. Maybe we will see him next to John Edwards more often in the next few years. If I'm right, you can say you heard it hear first. If not, it's good food for thought.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Grandma knows Best

When I “opened” yesterday's Times Argus, I was drawn to the article entitled "Vermont grandmother faces second protest trial" about Ruth Jackowski, the 69 year old Vermont woman who was arrested for blocking traffic during a war protest in Bennington on March 20, 2003. Does that date ring a bell? It’s the day that the War in Iraq began.

What was Grandma doing out in the middle of the busiest intersection in Vermont protesting? Well, she must have had a damn good reason because Grandmas always seem to know best, particularly when it comes to their grandchildren. The world’s grandchildren were in grave danger on this March morning and Ruth Jankowski was dong what any good Grandma would do step up and protect them. She was trying to stop this nation from murdering grandchildren in Iraq or sending this nation’s grandchildren to die in an unjustified and unjust war.

Ruth Jackowski is part of national group that call themselves the Raging Grannies. This group takes the protection of the world’s grandchildren very seriously. The Raging Grannies are involved in a range of social and political activism that defies that typical “granny” image. Members of the Raging Grannies have taken their post-career and/or child rearing days as an opportunity to speak their minds not only to their families, but to the world. These women have some years of wisdom on me and probably many other people reading this blog. Furthermore, they’ve got all those great feminine attributes such as networking skills, compassion, and determination that are so important to an effective activist. The Raging Grannies explain what they like about “grannying” in the following excerpt from their website

The delights of grannying include: dressing like innocent little old ladies so we can get close to our 'target', writing songs from old favourites that skewer modern wrongs, satirizing evil-doing in public and getting everyone singing about it, watching a wrong back down and turn tail and run, sharing a history with other women who know who they are and what they're about. Grannying is the least understood yet most powerful weapon we have.

What a brilliant philosophy! Who would arrest a Grandma? Especially for trying to protect her grandchildren. Unfortunately, that's what happened in Bennington on March 20,2003. What a crazy world we live in. We arrest pro-active and loving Grandmas and keep criminals in the highest political office in this nation. Grandma Ruth seems like a much better fit for the presidency and George W. Bush should be awaiting trial.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Seals Respond to Global Warming Trend with Love

I opened up, one of my favorite liberal news clearinghouse websites, to find this adorable picture of two seals snuggling in the mud. Wow, that mud looks a little bit like my yard right here in Montpelier, Vermont. I thought maybe I had accidentally opened to the National Geographic or Animal Planet website, but it turns out that these seals mating in the mud actually have a political message. The article connected to this image was published in the Daily Mail and is appropriately entitled, "Climate Change Putting Seals in the Mood for Love". According to the article, research conducted in a seal colony on the Scottish island of North Rona, shows that rising temperatures have had an impact on the travel patterns of the grey seals and some of the less aggressive, more "sensitive pony-tail" guy seals are getting a little more action and putting some diversity into the grey seal gene pool. Here is an excerpt from this article that puts a new twist on global warming.

Male seals are reaping the benefits of climate change by having more sex, scientists have discovered.

Subordinate grey seals are taking advantage of rising temperatures and falling rainfall to mate more often.

Due to climate change female grey seals are being forced to travel further for drinking water - removing them from the watchful eye of the dominant males and allowing the subordinate males to take advantage.

If we don't do something about climate change in Vermont soom, who knows what the streets of Burlington or the muddy ski slopes in Stowe will look like in a few years. While this idea of free love might seem interesting for a little while, I'm not sure how it would impact Vermont's already kind of eclectic image. Could be interesting.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Liberal Coffee, Independent Books, and Smart Dogs

This photo and the morning that surrounded it sums up some very important components of community in Vermont for me: Local coffee shops, Radio, independent bookstores, dogs, and politics.

Saturday morning, leaving my own dog and boyfriend still in bed, I trotted off to town (Montpelier) for what turned out to be a bustling Saturday. My first stop, of course, was at Capitol Grounds to get my morning cup of coffee. If you haven’t been to Capitol Grounds, you might not know, that the size options for your coffee are quite different from Starbucks. Your options, from smallest to largest, are conservative, moderate, liberal, and radical. To top it off (no pun intended), the two most common brews are “Bob’s House Blend” and “Bob’s Senate Blend”. This means that I frequently get to place my morning coffee order by requesting a “liberal senate” or a “radical house”. I think these orders pretty much speak for themselves.

After this wonderful opportunity to state my political wishes and receive a delicious cup of coffee in return, I was off to my next stop, Bear Pond Bookstore. Ken Squire, owner of WDEV radio, was broadcasting live from Bear Pond. Ken Squire was not alone. He was accompanied by renowned Buster the Wonder Dog, a border collie who frequently makes appearance with Ken at WDEV events. You can’t see it in this picture, but the chair that Buster is sitting in actually has the name “Buster” embroidered on it. Ken woke up Vermonters on this Saturday morning with his beloved “music to go to the dump by” and his commentary on the people and books that surrounded him at Bear Pond. I perched myself on the steps leading up to Bear Pond’s fabulous children’s section and watched the broad cast unfold.

Here is a little script of what I observed as I sat on the steps observing a not so typical Saturday morning radio program live from the smallest state capital.

Enter stage right, Bear Pond employee, George, holding 4 copies of the New York Times

Ken Squire (KS): Wow, you have a lot of copies of the Times there.

George (G): I’m still looking for the comics.

KS: It’s above the fold on the front page.

All that wit before 9:30 on a Saturday morning in December.

As if having WDEV broadcast live wasn’t enough for Bear Pond to offer me for entertainment and education that morning, Chris Graff arrived at Bear Pond about an hour later ready to sign his new book Dateline Vermont. I was getting a copy signed for my wonderful boyfriend, Robb, for Christmas. Of course, I have already started reading it and it is absolutely fabulous. Apparently, I’m not the only fan because Bear Pond sold out of this book on Saturday.

So, this blog is more of a story, than an essay, but there is an important moral to the story. The reason that I am able to enjoy a Saturday morning like this is because of the political and personal choices that Vermonters make everyday. There is very strong legislation to support Vermont’s downtowns. WDEV is one of the few family owned radio stations still around, which enables for considerably more freedom in terms of programming. Most importantly, everyday, Vermonters just like me, make the decision to spend their days enjoying and supporting their local community. Without the support of community members, small businesses such as Capitol Grounds and Bear Pond Books, would not be able to survive and I might find myself at the mega-chain counterparts that now dominate the majority of the American landscape.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Dogs Yes; Dogmas No

If you are a dog lover, particularly one who is living in Vermont, you may have been lucky enough to come across the art and writing of Stephen Huneck, known for his children's book series that stars his dog Sally. He is also known for creating the dog chapel, a chapel dedicated to that special relationship that we have with our four-legged canine friends. Like many buildings that serve a spiritual purpose, there is a sign outside this chapel in St. Johnsbury, VT that states the philosophy of this institution. "Welcome all creeds. All Breeds. No Dogmas allowed."

In addition to Huneck's children's book series about Sally, he has written a book about the dog chapel that he created. Since my mom is a Unitarian minister, I thought this would be a perfect gift for her l
ast Mother's Day. During her annual "blessing of the animals" service at her church, she used Huneck's work to illustrate the important role that our furry friends play in our lives, as well as the lessons we can learn from our pooches and other non-human companions. Here is an excerpt from her sermon entitled "A Place for Everyone".

It’s like those words printed at the top of our order of service:

“Welcome all creeds. All breeds. No dogmas allowed.” Dogs, yes; dogmas, no.

So let’s be good to our non-human friends as well as our human friends. Let’s show to each other and to them that we’ve learned a few things about love and play and trust from them.

As you might guess, I have both human and non-human friends. Here are some pictures of them doing tricks together. The human in the picture is Robb and the dog in the picture is Ella. Both have taught me a lot about love, play, and trust.

These pictures were taken during a recent walk in Montpelier's Hubbard Park when Ella made several important discoveries including the fascinating fact that snow is actually just frozen water which means that a snowy mountain is essentially just a big frozen dog bowl. Another discovery is that there are animals, such as her, that can defy gravity. These pictures are not doctored.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Property Taxes, Education, and Health Insurance

Property taxes are a major political issue all over the country and Vermont is no exception. I'm sure that property taxes are a burden, particularly for those who bought their houses many years ago when property values in Vermont were much lower. The common solution that many propose to the property tax burden in Vermont seems to be slashing the school budget, or as Vermont Governor Jim Douglas proposes, capping education spending. The questions I have regarding this issue are the following:

1.Are property taxes really the major financial burden of the majority of Vermonters? What percentage of Vermonters own homes?

2. What are the major financial burdens that middle-class Vermonters are facing today? How does these financial burndens effect property taxes?

2.Is reducing the school budget a reasonable approach to bringing property taxes under control?

I did a little research and found some answers to these questions that drew me to make some probably unpopular conclusions about property taxes and school funding.

I have several issues with the property taxes and education spending obsession that seem to plague many people. The first issue is that not all Vermonters are lucky enough to own property. According to my initial demographic research, at least 30% of Vermonters are not homeowners. This number is undoubtedly much higher as it is easier to get demographic information from individuals who own property and live at the same address for an extended period of time. Why are all Vermonters not financially able to buy their own home? Clearly, property taxes are not the financial burden for them since they don't own property. As a Vermonter who does not own a home because I am not in a financial position to do so, I can tell you that the major financial burdens that prevent me from buying a home right now are student loans, car insurance/payment, fuel, health care, and rent. I know I am not alone.

The rising cost of health insurance and premiums is perhaps the biggest financial burden that all Vermonters are grappling with. According to a recent article in the Burlington Free Press, between 2000 and 2006, family premiums have increased 80 percent, while wages rose by only 24 percent. The article breaks it town in terms of dollar cost as well. Put your coffee cup down because these numbers are pretty upsetting.

Individual health insur
ance premiums rose an average of $415, or 88 percent (from $471 to $887) over the six-year period for workers and $1,745 for employers, from $2,214 to $3,958.

Median earnings rose 24 percent from $22,155 to $27,515 over the six-year period.

Here is the link for the entire article entitled, "Healthcare Premiums Rising Faster than Earnings"

Increases in the school budgets are largely due to this increased cost of health insurance for school staff. Voicing complaints about class size and teacher salaries to the school board may make Vermonters feel like they have a voice in their property tax burden, but complaints about school budgets should be directed to the health insurance and pharmeceutical companies that are really driving up the cost of public education.

Healthcare should not be a money making enterprise. It should be a right of citizenship . If our tax dollars go towards medical research then everyone should be able to reap the benefits of this research without an excessive financial burden. So, next time you want to go to a school board meeting and complain about property taxes, consider giving Blue Cross/Blue Shield or Cigna a phone call and voicing your frustration to them. You're more likely to see a drop in property taxes with this strategy.