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Letters to the Editor 

BT Yeasayer

As I understand it, the city-council-appointed Blue Ribbon Committee says the only way forward for Burlington Telecom is to sell a controlling interest to a private party and become a for-profit corporation [“Fair Game,” February 10].

What everyone is forgetting is that BT is in trouble primarily from having to appease Comcast — apparently the “Public” the Vermont Public Service Commission and Public Service Board are supposed to serve. Read the “Order and CPG” pdfs. They’re full of giveaways to Comcast and crippling restrictions on BT’s funding.

Poor Comcast, with only $3.6 billion in profits last year (up a billion from 2008); they really do need protection from the cutthroat competitiveness of the City of Burlington, don’t they?

Instead of naysaying, the committee should conclude that:

1. A utility with BT’s incredible potential for enhancing Burlington’s economy and tax revenue, not to mention the services it provides to nonbusiness users, should be funded like one, owned by the city, and supported, not crippled, by the state.

2. It doesn’t matter when, or even if, it “breaks even.” Does your police department break even? How about your fire department? Schools? Roads? Got the idea? It’s an infrastructure investment, folks, with all kinds of ancillary benefits that will never show up in the bottom line, but are worth it nonetheless.

As a taxpayer, I want the city council to stop harassing BT, support it fully, and put pressure on the state to quit giving away the telecom “farm” to companies who [couldn’t] care less about the people of Vermont.

Alan Wagener

Burlington

Utility Customers Benefit

A recent story headlined “Vermont Utilities Stand to Make Millions from Yankee’s Relicensure” [“Local Matters,” February 17] got it wrong. All of the benefits of relicensing Vermont Yankee, including any benefits from the revenue-sharing agreement referenced in the story, will flow directly to our electric customers.

Vermont utility regulation treats prudent energy costs as pass-throughs, with no markup by utilities. Any revenue sharing would serve to mitigate power costs, so GMP and CVPS will not pocket a dime from Vermont Yankee, whether or not the plant is relicensed.

The story explained the potential benefit of millions of dollars under the revenue-sharing agreement utilities have with Entergy, the value of which will vary depending on future market prices. The recipients of that benefit would be our customers, plain and simple.

The decision about whether to renew Vermont Yankee’s license is an important one, and safety is non-negotiable. But it is important that reports on the financial implications are based on solid factual information.

Dorothy Schnure

Green Mountain Power

Steve Costello

Central Vermont Public Service

Schnure is manager of corporate communications for Green Mountain Power; Costello is director of community affairs for Central Vermont Public Service.

My Man, Jernigan

I have always thoroughly enjoyed and admired Hackie’s words of wisdom. His column [titled] “Her Man, Brake” [February 10], is just perfect!

Kim Lanier

Essex Junction

Free Speech is Not Free

The February 10 Seven Days [“Local Matters”] story on the Vermont Right to Life Committee and campaign-finance laws contains many inaccuracies [“A U.S. Supreme Court Ruling May Protect Vermont’s Campaign-Disclosure Laws”].

Just to take a few examples, your readers should know that (1) VRLC is not registered as a “political committee”; (2) it is unconstitutional for government to regulate VRLC as such; (3) VRLC doesn’t engage in speech anonymously; (4) VRLC hasn’t spent “thousands of dollars” on “behalf” of any candidate in “previous elections”; and (5) VRLC doesn’t engage in speech “attacking Democrats.”

To the contrary, VRLC engages in speech about issues of concern to its members. It notifies its members of public officials’ positions on such issues, regardless of officials’ party affiliation.

VRLC and other advocacy organizations, including organizations that disagree with VRLC on issues, have a constitutional right to engage in such speech. That doesn’t mean government may never regulate political speech — but it may do so only in a constitutional way.

The United States Supreme Court has never held that government may regulate speech the way Vermont does. Vermont law undermines the premise of freedom of speech and prevents advocacy organizations such as VRLC from fully expressing their points of view.

As long as Vermont persists in enacting unconstitutional laws, it should expect court challenges from those trying to protect their free-speech rights.

James Bopp Jr.

Terre Haute, Ind.

Bopp is general counsel for National Right to Life. He is challenging Vermont’s campaign-finance laws in U.S. District Court.

CORRECTION:

In the article “How Secure Are Medical Records in the Age of Digital Record Keeping? [“Local Matters,” February 24]” the subject, “Jane,” asked why it took Fletcher Allen two years to discover that her medical records had been breached, and then only after she notified the hospital of her suspicions. In fact, as a hospital spokesperson pointed out, Fletcher Allen administrators responded immediately to Jane’s concerns about her records privacy. Her complaint led to the discovery of seven earlier violations spanning a two-year period. The sentence should have read: Why did it take Fletcher Allen two years to discover that eight women’s medical records had been breached, and then only after Jane alerted the hospital of her suspicions? Seven Days regrets the error.

Reimbursement System Unfair

I don’t mean to throw fuel on the fire with this, but I would like to weigh in on the issue of legislative pay. The system is awkward and unwieldy, and designed to (as far as I can tell) cover costs for out-of-towners while shorting lawmakers who live closer to Montpelier. The “per diem” is a day rate that is pegged to the federal rate — not something lawmakers set themselves. The weekly pay (with no benefits) is the lowest in the country and represents a 5 percent pay cut this year.

I don’t know a legislator of any party who serves for the money. This is a 365-day-a-year job, with a two- or three-month job interview process every two years. You have 5000 bosses, and they call and email all the time. They have a lot to tell you and you learn a lot from them. But it takes time — not just from January to April, but all year long.

And for 16 weeks a year, representatives go to Montpelier and make laws, and update laws, and review laws. That’s the paid part of the job. The unpaid part is everything else. Over a year, it averages out to about $5 or $6 an hour (and that’s including the per diem).

If citizens think that lawmakers should not be paid, I’m open to the conversation. But to imply that accepting the per diem is immoral is to miss a much larger discussion — namely, what kind of compensation do we as a society think is fair for public servants? From the letters, I’d guess the answer is, “Not much.”

Full disclosure: I’m married to a state rep and have run several legislative election campaigns.

Liz Schlegel

Waterbury

Schlegel is married to Rep. Tom Stevens.

Hidden Gallery

First, I would like to thank you for the story on the Colburn Gallery [“Nice Work If You Can Find It,” February 10]. Speaking as a former art student myself, support for the on-campus gallery is pivotal to art education. Not only for students to gain experience in how to exhibit their work (let alone what to exhibit), but to expose students, art and otherwise, to the work of their peers and contemporaries.

But I must say that the lack of marketing initiative by the university and gallery staff is a disgrace. When an UVM-employed receptionist does not know where you are, there is a problem, to say the least. This is an awesome opportunity for marketing and art students to get together and learn how to promote an event. Send out email blasts for new shows, print fliers and hand them out to local businesses (not to mention plastering the campus). I’d say it’s time for Guerrilla Marketing 101 to start at UVM.

Jessica Hill

Jeffersonville

Keep the Cubans

Re [“A Seven Days Reporter Finds Getting to Cuba Easier Than Returning,” January 27]: In 2000, I visited my son-in-law in Cuba. He was studying film at the state film school south of Havana. I am a newspaper photographer and knew that I could legally go to Cuba as a journalist. I flew back to Montréal and crossed the border at Highgate Springs, told the U.S. agents where I had been, declared I had under $100 of cigars, with receipts. They emptied out my car, confiscated the cigars and took me inside. I had them call up the actual state department rules on the Internet, which clearly state that journalists may travel to Cuba and may bring back up to $100 of merchandise, cigars not excluded. They shamefacedly brought my cigars out from a back room and let me go on my way. I believe the agents do know the rules, but because they know that ordinary citizens do not know the rules, they can get away with harassing them and confiscating their cigars or rum or whatever, which they take out back and consume as they relive their crazy border-guard exploits.

James Collins

Brimfield, Mass.

WWJD?

I am not a Catholic (as you can probably tell from my name) but I find Red Square’s ad on page 7 of your February 17 issue very offensive. To change a religious image of Jesus so he appears to be smoking (“Get Your Ash in Here!” to “Kick Off the Lenten Season”) is disrespectful. Would you run an ad that pokes fun at someone’s race, gender, class, etc.? If not, why religion?

Linda Goldberg

Marshfield

Nothing Wrong With Nelligan

It wasn’t the Hotel Nelligan’s [“Poet’s Retreat,” February 10] food that struck me as much as the appointments of the room, the service and, above all, the friendliness of the staff. It all created an ambiance worthy of an escape from the reality of your bathroom when, every morning, you look in the mirror.

Peter Miller

Colbyville

Nuclear Better Than Coal

Thanks for Seven Days’ reporting in the February 17 issue on Vermont Yankee. There’s one glaring omission, though, in the approach to this story. It doesn’t inform readers about the larger energy context. What we never hear about in discussions of nuclear energy is the enormous damage that America’s coal energy plants have done and are continuing to do on a massive scale. It seems our imaginations, entranced by the supra-human power of atomic fission, have locked onto the dark science of nuclear energy while ignoring the planet-wide consequences of burning coal.

The tragedy is that America is responsible for such a huge percentage of global carbon emissions, but the public’s perception seems to be that coal is a more benign way to power up all our favorite home gadgets and not nearly as destructive as nuclear energy. How can any thinking person continue to make this claim? Likewise, if we’re truly concerned about Vermont’s environment, we should also think about our daily car exhaust, the biggest source of pollution in the state. We can all do something about that. Let’s get real.

Bill Dodge

Burlington

Common Misperception

I had to laugh at the sour grapes on display from Vermont Commons’ Rob Williams [“Feedback,” February 3] in regard to Cathy Resmer’s article on blogs [“We’ve Got News for You,” January 27]. Aside from Vermont Commons’ site being overlooked (where one can learn of the secret “earthquake weapon” the U.S. military just used on Haiti to get their oil and gold), Rob fails to mention that his big beef with Green Mountain Daily is the fact that we publicized Second Vermont Republic’s close ties with neo-Confederate organizations (which, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, SVR’s head guru Thomas Naylor has continued, unrepentantly, even appearing on an avowed white-supremacist’s talk show in the last few years).

When Mr. Williams himself was questioned about these things when they first came to light, his own response was that it was “none of his damn business.” Apparently, the Vermont ideals he supposedly espouses ad nauseum take a back seat to the “lost cause.”

As to the info provided by anonymous blogger “Thomas Rowley” (who, sadly, is not me, as Williams insists in his conspiracy-addled mind), it was substantive enough to have Naylor be the subject of several articles on the SPLC’s “Hate Watch” site, and Williams has not been able to refute any of what was revealed about the Vermont secessionist movement, other than to dismiss it as yet another conspiracy. It’s important to remember whom these people have gotten into bed with as we sit back and ooh and ahh over the novelty of secession.

John Ryan

Plainfield

Ryan blogs at Green Mountain Daily and Five Before Chaos.

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