How to Diagram

Roll Call GraphicYour representatives in Montpelier are there to, as the name suggests, represent you in the capitol. Do your representatives’ votes represent how you would vote if you were in their place?

This collection of legislator roll call vote profiles is brought to you as an educational service by the Ethan Allen Institute (EAI).

In 2013-14, the Vermont State House of Representatives held over 160 roll call votes on a wide variety of issues. The Senate held over eighty. Some of those votes were for show (of the “who likes puppies?” variety), some were obscure and confusing, some were repetitive (there were several roll call votes on the Gas Tax Increase, for example, and for the sake of simplicity we chose one to feature just one), some were important and illuminating.

Opinions will vary on which votes fall into each category. The  votes presented here were selected because they are important based on the potential impact the legislation could or will, depending upon final passage, have on the lives of the citizens of Vermont. They are illuminating in the sense that they allow the citizen a clear picture of the direction his or her legislator is driving the state. And, finally, they were chosen because they fall within EAI’s free market, economic oriented mission as they pertain to individual liberty, limited government and the founding principles of our great nation.

2013-2014 Legislative Session

13-14 Roll Call Profiles – Addison County

13-14 Roll Call Profiles – Bennington County

13-14 Roll Call Profiles – Caledonia County

13-14 Roll Call Profiles – Chittenden County

13-14 Roll Call Profiles – Essex-Orleans County

13-14 Roll Call Profiles – Franklin-Grand Isle County

13-14 Roll Call Profiles – Lamoille County

13-14 Roll Call Profiles – Orange County

13-14 Roll Call Profiles – Rutland County

13-14 Roll Call Profiles – Washington County

13-14 Roll Call Profiles – Windham County

13-14 Roll Call Profiles – Windsor County


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posted by Chris Campion

Burlington College, a few years removed from being on the receiving end of the management by Bernie Sanders’ wife, Jane Sanders, is now selling much of its once and future campus to the private sector, in order to cover its bills (h/t to Seven Days).  As has been discussed in the past, Burlington College’s revenue streams did not seem to match its operating expenses, nor did the acquisition of additional property seem to fall into a category of “advisable”, given that it was already servicing debt  and had clearly demonstrated a serious need for much higher enrollments to simply cover its operating expenses.

But in fact, it’s much worse than that:

Burlington College is planning to sell all but seven acres of the lakefront campus it acquired just a few years ago. Interim president Mike Smith said in an interview Monday that the school needs money from a sale soon in order to survive.

So, even though the property as originally purchased was valued at nearly $20 million dollars, yet sold for $10 million – and Burlington College went ahead with the purchase anyway, despite its lack of revenue growth and debt overhang – the college is forced to sell the property as fast as it can, since it’s heading underwater.

Perhaps this was the plan all along.  Burlington College would acquire 32 acres at half price, find itself unable to even maintain payments, much less develop the property, and then sell the bulk of the asset to a developer.  This has the happy circumstance of providing prime real estate to the private sector at roughly half the assessed value, in order to “save” Burlington College.

25 acres now goes on “sale” for $7 million, when the whole parcel at 32 acres was valued at almost triple that amount.  Even the lower-assessed value at $16.5 million, it’s  almost twice the per-acre price it will sell for now:

Mommy, when I grow up, can I be a real estate developer?

Mommy, when I grow up, can I be a real estate developer?

Oh, and Bernie Sanders’ wife, Jane Sanders, former Burlington College President, was handsomely rewarded with $150K annual salary for driving this ship so solidly onto the rocks before bailing out – and continued to be paid after she left the organization.  But that’s what life is like for the 1%.  The school’s finances are a ruin; meanwhile, a golden parachute awaits you (from Burlington College’s 2012 Form 990):

Damn, their separation packages are *tasty* at Burlington College.

Damn, their separation packages are *tasty* at Burlington College.

Burlington College, with an enrollment between 200-300 students, and annual revenues as of 2012 in the $5MM range, clearly did not have the revenue stream to support the interest and principal on a loan of that size.  But they went ahead with it anyway, which means they did so for a reason.  Which likely means that any financing deal anticipated the future sale of the asset, in the near short term, in order to prop up the school’s glaring revenue shortfalls.  Taken one step further, this meant that a local developer would probably have an inside track on buying 25 acres of some of the best real estate in Vermont at much less than the assessed price.

Christmas comes early for a few connected Burlingtonians.  If there is a silver lining, it is that Burlington will at least see some property tax revenues out of the developed property, so maybe the bath the city’s been taking on Burlington Telecom will ease up a bit, but as Interim President Mike Smith said, Burlington College’s days are probably numbered:

After what he described as a “deep dive” into the school’s finances during the last several weeks, Smith said he came to the conclusion that absent an immediate infusion of cash, “Burlington College is not a viable ongoing entity.” He determined that it would likely need to undergo a “soft closure,” starting next year.

 

 

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by Joseph Blanchette (Update on a recent VermontDigger posting.)A crying elderly woman covering her face

My wife recently mentioned that she again was unable to access Vermont Health Connect’s (VHC) website to download next month’s premium invoice. Such breakdowns have characterized our experience ever since we signed up for the state-run health plan last December. That experience foreshadowed ten months of disappointment with a program that politicians promised would offer simpler, more efficient and cost effective health plans that would quickly save Vermonters hundreds of millions of dollars. None of these benefits have been delivered.

As happened with many Vermonters, the Internet enrollment process was complex and frustrating. The process took me an entire morning, and even then I was unsure of successful completion. My phone calls to VHC repeatedly put me into “voice mail jail.” My messages seeking help went unheeded for over a week. Responses to my emails were met with assurances of answers in a week. At the start of the new year, things still weren’t right and I spent more time fixing problems.

The plans we selected had higher premium costs, higher out-of-pocket co-payments and deductibles, and reduced benefits compared to our previous BCBS plan. So we now pay thousands of dollars more for poorer coverage and inferior service. This summer we were informed that our premium would be due by the 26th of the month prior to the covered month, four-to-five days earlier than premiums are historically due. The stated reason? To allow more time to process payments. The unstated reason? To hold Vermonters’ money in VHC’s interest-bearing bank account, not ours. But things got even worse.

Given these experiences, I urged my wife to notify VHC in July that she would by moving to Medicare on September 1st. She was informed that VHC could only process her request within 30 days of the change date. So she called again in early August and asked to be removed from VHC coverage as of September 1. She was told her request had been sent to a specialist and they were “working on it.” We received no further communication from VHC that month regarding the requested change.

In early September, she called again for a status report and informed VHC that we would now send premium only for my coverage as she was no longer on the VHC plan. She was startled to learn that this would not be acceptable. Due to processing backlogs, we would be required to continue paying her premium as well as mine for several more months until VHC’s processing backlog was eliminated. My wife presumed that we would then receive a timely refund of overpayments. Wrong again! VHC would keep our overpayment as a credit to be used against my future premium payments. “May we read this policy,” we asked the representative? “Sorry. I can’t send it to you. Things change daily.”

Earlier in October we received two email messages directing us to the VHC website for our November invoice. The website was still not running and two days later another email arrived saying, “never mind.” Our most recent invoice arrived seeking both premium payments once again, but it included a mysterious $154.00 credit. After spending almost an hour on the phone with VHC, they conceded that they improperly credited someone else’s payment to our account. As of mid-October VHC still wants my wife’s premium as well as mine for November. When asked for a status report on this very costly matter, we were told they are working it, perhaps they need more information, and we should call another department for an update. More time on hold, more dropped calls, more wasted time, and more frustration with Vermont’s health care panacea.

At month’s end, I received a letter directing me to call VHC within seven days about “my change.” After speaking with two of VHC’s outsourced representatives in North Carolina, (they had no idea about why I was calling), and being on hold six times during the forty minute call, I was told that last summer’s change request was never processed. “You and your wife will have to fill out change applications.” When I refused I was told they would fill out the forms and call me by the end of the days to confirm details and completion. You guessed it. That call never came.

I recall the outrage from Montpelier and the media a few years back whenever a BCBS policyholder complained about the carrier’s slightest misstep. Yet, despite ten months of squandered millions, incompetence and confiscation of policyholder funds, politicians urge us to be patient and trust that they know best. They’ll get their experiment right, eventually.

Such incompetence and arrogance are what we get, and will be getting more of, as this growing state monopoly―unaccountable to policyholder needs and concerns―continues to take over all critical aspects of our health care system. And we haven’t even gotten to the serious stuff that will eventually impact every Vermonter, not just those stuck with VHC health plans. Single Payer’s global budgets, higher costs, doctor shortages, longer wait times, limited access, and an estimated two-plus billion dollar annual price tag are on their way. I long for when I could have taken my business to competing, more responsive and competent health insurance providers. When will legislators admit their horrible failure?

-  Joseph Blanchette was a Howard Dean appointee to the Public Oversight Commission as a labor/consumer representative. He formerly served as Benefits Director for VT-NEA, and as a fiduciary and co-manager the Vermont Education Health Initiative. He lives in Charlotte

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Cacomela

Plan Would Cut Teachers’ Benefits by $39 million

It looks like Vermont’s move to a single payer healthcare system will cost Vermont teachers a whole lot more than the $105,000 their union dumped (inexplicably!) into the single payer advocacy organization Vermont Leads. It looks like it could cost them their healthcare benefits.

A new report done for the Vermont School Boards Association (VSBS) by the lobbying firm KSE Partners calls for moving to single payer and moving teachers away from the plans they have now and into the Vermont Health Connect “gold” plan – a collective reduction in benefits amounting to $39 million that will help reduce property taxes.

The goal of single payer healthcare reform in this respect according to Steve Dale of the VSBA is to reduce teacher health care benefits so that they “are more in line with the majority of Vermonters.” Such a reduction in benefits, says Dale, “…likely will result in substantial savings.”

Of course it would!

The KSE study notes that the Vermont Health Connect Gold Plan isn’t even the best benefits package offered through the insurance exchange, but teachers should be consoled by the fact that they would still have “coverage equal to or better than 86% of all Vermonters who receive coverage through the exchange.”

Sounds fair. And Vermont teachers should not complain because YOU ASKED FOR THIS.

In the June 2014 edition of NEA Today, Vermont NEA president Martha Allen is quoted in an article titled Vermont and its Educators Lead the Way on Single Payer, “Many people may have been surprised and a little curious (to hear) Vermont-NEA was backing the move toward universal, publicly funded health care. After all, the thinking goes, members of the state’s largest union already have comprehensive and affordable health insurance, so why on earth would they support Vermont’s efforts to become the first U.S. state to go down this road?”

It’s a good question considering where that road is leading — to teachers no longer having comprehensive, affordable health insurance. Here’s an answer  (not Allen’s): The Vermont NEA is loyal not to its members, but to a left wing political agenda and a Democrat party for which it is perfectly willing to sacrifice its members’ interests.

So remember Vermont teachers, when your healthcare benefits are sacrificed on the alter of single payer healthcare, you’re only getting what your union dues  paid for.

- Posted by Rob Roper, president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org)

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by Meredith Angwin 

Meredith Angwin
New England electricity is too dependent upon natural gas-fired power plants. And we are about to pay a lot for that dependence.

In recent days, several New England utilities have announced major price rises for electricity. In Massachusetts, National Grid said that its customers can expect a 37 percent rate increase in November. Liberty Utilities in New Hampshire announced that there will be a 50 percent rate increase, and Unitil, which serves Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, announced a price rise that will add over $40 a month to the average home electricity bill. These companies explained that the rate increases are due to the increasing cost of power on the grid.

Why is the grid cost increasing? Part of the reason is supply and demand. Supply has decreased. Vermont Yankee (nuclear) and Salem Harbor in Massachusetts (coal) are shutting down and will not be available this winter. During the high demand resulting from the polar vortex in early 2014, New England needed about 20,000 megawatts of power. The grid barely scraped up enough to meet the demand. This year, 1,000 megawatts, or five percent of that power, is going off-line, and no new power plants have been built.

But perhaps a bigger problem is that the New England grid is far too dependent on natural gas. During the polar vortex cold snap, which affected all of New England, many natural gas power plants could not get enough gas to operate. It was being used to heat homes. New England is often described as “pipeline-constrained”: There are not enough pipelines for the natural gas we need.

The grid operator, ISO-NE, a nonprofit company, is responsible for ensuring a reliable electric supply on the New England grid. The way the grid operates is that some plants keep running steadily all the time. The steady-operation plants are nuclear, coal and some of the natural gas facilities — basically, plants that operate on a steam cycle. When demand is higher than these plants can supply, it is met by putting more gas-fired plants into service. However, last winter, many gas-fired plants could not operate.

ISO-NE foresaw this natural gas supply crunch and had a “winter reliability” program in place. It paid $70 million to oil-burning power plants to keep oil available to burn. This was a “capacity” payment. That is, the plants were paid just to have oil on hand. (This payment also increased our electric bills.) But during the polar vortex power crunch, the oil was not enough, and some jet fuel was also burned to make power. In other words, over-dependence on natural gas led to expensive alternatives: oil and jet fuel. Using these fuels caused major price increases.

Also, even without the crunch, the price of natural gas itself has doubled since its low point in 2012.

The two issues (supply and diversity of fuel sources) are going to intersect again this winter. With two power plants closed, a cold snap this winter will require more oil and jet fuel than was required last winter. Utilities are getting their rate increases lined up to deal with the coming price spike.

What about my own local utility? I live in Vermont, and Green Mountain Power told the press recently that because of its “efficiencies” it has lowered prices and will keep them low.

I do not believe prices will stay low in Vermont. GMP is subject to the same factors that affect the other utilities. It buys much of its power on the same markets. GMP also has large contracts with HydroQuebec. Unfortunately, these are “market-follow” contracts. When the market price rises on the grid, HydroQuebec will also raise the price that it charges GMP. Back in 2010, I wrote blog posts on how the new market-follow contracts were “a bad deal with HydroQuebec.” This winter, I suspect we will find out just how bad a deal they are.

What about renewables? For many reasons, renewable build-out is not happening very quickly. As of last year, less than 10 percent of Vermont’s in-state electricity generation was by renewables, not counting hydro.

Also, renewables are generally paired with natural gas (gas-fired plants are turned on when the wind dies down or the sun sets). So renewables are not going to be much help right now.

I was recently elected to be on the coordinating committee of the Consumer Liaison Group of ISO-NE. Along with 120 people from all over the Northeast, I attended its quarterly meeting in September. Everyone there seemed to have a tale of when the big price rises would hit their local utilities. Many are planning major price increases in January 2015.

What shall we do about these price spikes? Just as in our private lives, diversity is important. I think we need to be willing to accept diversity on the grid: nuclear plants and coal plants. Natural gas is an excellent fuel, but it seems to be the one and only fuel acceptable to many people. However, what is happening on the grid right now is a classic illustration of the old saying: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Our grid is close to just one basket right now (over 50 percent natural gas). The winter is coming, and power will be expensive if any eggs drop.

- Meredith Angwin of Wilder is a physical chemist who worked for electric utilities for more than 25 years and now heads the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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By Rob RoperRob Roper

There is some confusion out there, particularly among seniors, about what will happen to Medicare if Vermont adopts the single payer healthcare program, Green Mountain Care. Does the state intend to “take over” Medicare?

On the heels of this question getting some necessary public attention from Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano, the single payer advocacy organization Vermont Leads posted, “Just in case you’ve seen this… you should understand the state has no desire (or ability) to take over Medicare.” Robin Lunge, the Shumlin Administration’s Director of Health Care Reform, was quoted as saying, “It’s never been our intention to take away or reduce people’s Medicare benefits.” (VT Digger, 10/7/14)

These statements range from dishonest to misleading.

First, Act 48 as passed in 2011 – which the legislature wrote and voted for and Governor Shumlin signed into law – states pretty clearly:

“Green Mountain Care shall assume responsibility for the benefits and services previously paid for by… Medicare….” [(Sec. 2(a)(6)]

And,

“The agency shall seek permission from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to be the administrator for the Medicare program in Vermont.” [(18 VSA 1827(c)]

Beyond what’s written in the law, Governor Shumlin attended a meeting of Physicians for a National Health Plan in Boston last November where he was confronted by Dr. David Himmelstein. Himmelstein’s complaint about Green Mountain Care was that it couldn’t really be a single payer system because the Vermont system would also have to accommodate several other insurance plans, including those of federal employees, military personnel, ERISA, and Medicare.

Shumlin replied, “But I’m going to try to get the waivers to get everybody [in Vermont] in the pool — everybody. I want everybody in the pool.” This includes seniors currently on Medicare.

There are reasons for such insistence. Getting these waivers and incorporating the federal dollars into Green Mountain Care would be critical to the overall financing of single payer, as well as for, as Himmelstein pointed out, realizing potential savings from the efficiencies of having just one payer.

So, yes, the proponents of single payer do “desire” to take over Medicare. They want to take over the Medicare revenue that currently flows into Vermont and put it into Green Mountain Care, and to take over responsibility for administering healthcare benefits to Vermont seniors.

Do they have the “ability” to do this at present? No. But it is written into the law that the state is legally bound apply for the federal waivers to get that ability by 2017, which is the earliest possible date at which the federal government is legally able to grant Vermont any waivers under the Affordable Care Act:

“The director, in collaboration with the agency of human services, SHALL obtain waivers, exemptions, agreements, legislation, or a combination thereof to ensure that, to the extent possible under federal law, all federal payments provided within the state for health services are paid directly to Green Mountain Care.”  [(Sec. 2(a)(6)]

In fairness, proponents of single payer believe that they can deliver equal or better benefits to seniors through Green Mountain Care, and Act 48 states that by law they must do so.  The federal application for the waivers demands that the state demonstrate that it can deliver these benefits, and do so without increasing the deficit. This is what Robin Lunge was hedging at when she said it was not their intention to take away or reduce “benefits.” What they intend is to take control of delivering those benefits.

It is also important to consider that the federal government may not grant Vermont the waivers it desires. It’s under no obligation to do so. Some feel that if the Republicans take over the senate after November the odds of Vermont obtaining Medicare waivers will go from slim to not likely. But, you never know, and the state is going to try.

Three years after its passage there are still a number of basic unanswered questions regarding single payer even. All Vermonters deserve an honest and open discussion about the costs and impacts of what moving to a single payer system will mean and for whom. The place to start is with the facts about what is written in the law.

Proponents of a single payer system no doubt believe transitioning the financial and administrative responsibility for Medicare benefits to Green Mountain Care will be a “big nothing-burger” for Vermont seniors. But, as we’ve seen, nothing-burgers can turn into big something-burgers pretty quickly in Vermont. After all, these are the same folks responsible for administering the Vermont Health Connect website, which has so far cost taxpayers $100 million dollars — and it still doesn’t work.

 - Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org). He lives in Stowe. 

 

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posted by Tom Licata

This is the first piece in a series on the roots and impact of Progressivism

Progressivism – so pervasive in today’s Democratic Party – is the ideology of American suicide and specifically of American Constitutionalism. This is the first in a series of writings dissecting and analyzing Progressivism’s ideological beliefs and ideas, to which the just stated conclusion will become self-evident. “Suicide” is an emotive term but here I use its cognitive ‘self-inflicting’ meaning. That is, the demise of American Constitutionalism is coming almost entirely from internal or domestic sources, rather than external or foreign.

The frameworks of these writings are largely taken from James Burnham’s 1964 work, “Suicide of the West,” a detailed analysis of liberalism’s history and beliefs, which ends in the conclusion that “Liberalism is the ideology of Western suicide.”

Mr. Burnham – who graduated atop of his Princeton class and became one of the great political theorists of the 20th century – knows this subject. As a Marxist in the 1930s, he was befriended by Leon Trotsky and became an influential leader in the American Trotskyite movement, after which he turned to the political Right. During World War II, Mr. Burnham took leave from his professorship at NYU to work for the Office of Strategic Services (a forerunner of the CIA), where he lead the “Political and Psychological Warfare” division. President Ronald Reagan awarded Mr. Burnham the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.

Before delving into Progressivism’s ideological beliefs and ideas (what Mr. Burnham calls “Liberalism,” I take liberty of updating to “Progressivism”), it’s important to define just what an “ideology” is and what impact it has on one’s thinking.

An ideology is a systematic set of beliefs and ideas about society and the nature of man. An ideologue’s thinking calls for a commitment independent of specific facts, experience or even of reality. Ideologues cannot lose arguments because their answers are predetermined in advance. If there are conflicts between their doctrines and reality, then reality surrenders. The primary functions of ideologues like Vermont’s Progressive-Democrats – and this is very important – is not to state truths as much as to adjust attitudes.

This explains why reforming something like Vermont’s education and property tax Gordian Knot of Act 60/68 or Vermont’s “single-payer” healthcare plan of Act 48 is so difficult: It’s bound up in all kinds of ideological beliefs and thinking, such as egalitarianism, rationalism and the nature of man’s perfectibility or “plasticity,” terms I’ll elaborate on in future writings. Vermont’s Progressive-Democrats are much more interested in bending attitudes towards their “ideological beliefs,” than in stating truths or reality.

Progressivism rejects both natural rights theory and the concept of man’s “Creator-endowed” inalienable rights, found in our Declaration of Independence. Instead, Progressivism enshrines a new doctrine of “socioeconomic rights.” These rights no longer attach to individuals, but to groups, such as to women, class, race, etc. Instead of rights springing from the individual (liberties as preexisting claims against the government), rights are created by the State (liberties as grants of relief from government). Such government relief comes in the form of things such as food stamps, housing allowances, free college education, etc.

But don’t take my word for it; take the explicit words of this rejection from the “father” of Progressivism himself, President Woodrow Wilson, in 1908: “No doubt a great deal of nonsense has been talked about the inalienable rights of the individual.…” And the even more explicit words from his protégé, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1932: “The Declaration of Independence discusses the problem of Government in terms of a contract…. Under such a contract rulers were accorded power, and the people consented to that power on consideration that they be accorded certain rights. The task of statesmanship has always been the redefinition of these rights in terms of a changing and growing social order….”

“Nonsense [in] talk[ing] about the inalienable rights of the individual”? The Declaration of Independence as contract? Where would you find man’s “inalienable rights” written down in any contract, as they are “endowed by our Creator” and understood only in the “Laws of Nature”? And do we really want “rulers” rather the representatives, governing us? And if the “task of statesmanship” is the “redefinition of [our] rights,” are we still a free people, ultimately accountable to both the rights and duties endowed to us by our Creator?

If it’s not already self-evident that Progressivism and American Constitutionalism don’t go together and are mutually exclusive, then stay-tuned. Next up will be a dissection and analysis of Progressivism’s ideological beliefs about the nature of man.

-  Tom Licata is a member of the Ethan Allen Institute’s Board of Directors & founder of Vermonters for Economic Health.

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posted by Rob Roper

This week, the Vermont Attorney General’s office is hosting a series of meetings in Burlington, Montpelier and Brattleboro to discuss how to implement the GMO labeling law set to take effect in 2016. That is, if a lawsuit by food manufacturers (GMA, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers) doesn’t scuttle the law before it even gets off the ground.

But here is a modest proposal for the plaintiffs in this case. Don’t attack the “Contains GMO” label. Embrace it. In fact, market it and make it a selling point.

GMO’s have the potential to do a lot of good in this world. Golden Rice, for example, can be used alleviate malnutrition in some of the poorest parts of the world. This rice is genetically engineered to contain vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency is a huge problem, responsible for 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness and 2 million deaths each year.

By increasing agricultural yields on fewer acres of land, GMOs can allow us to both feed more hungry people and save valuable wildlife habitats and to keep pristine natural landscapes that would otherwise have to be converted to food production.

Can’t you picture the ad campaign? Over a background of stunning and heart wrenching images, a voiceover proclaims, “Reach for the box that preserves poor children’s eyesight, and keeps Vermont’s landscape wild. Reach for the GMO label!” Oh, and by the way, you’ll probably be saving yourself some serious grocery dollars into the bargain.

The more information consumers have the better. A free market requires an educated population. This particular labeling law is seriously flawed, shouldn’t have been passed, and is more about cronyism and politics than enlightenment, but that’s another story. Nevertheless, letting people know what’s in their food is a good and fair concept. Both sides in this debate should embrace it.

– Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. www.ethanallen.org. 

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By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS—In its annual round of diplomatic musical chairs, the General Assembly chose five new members for the coveted seats on the Security Council, the UN’s  most prestigious body.   The new members, Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain and Venezuela begin their two year terms starting in January 2015. 

But beyond what even some diplomats see as an almost  pro forma shuffling of the deck for the fifteen member Council, the seats are selected both for geographical balance and equity in the 193 member state world organization.  In fact, the seats often reflect political influence as much as high stakes behind the scenes bargaining in regional blocs.   

Though the Council’s real power core rests with the permanent five P-5 members, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, all of whom hold the powerful veto, there’s an additional ten non- permanent members, five of which are selected annually.  According to some wags, a campaign for such a seat costs up to $20 million but in the long run is worth it.  Not only does the elected country gather higher profile globally with a place at the green felt table of diplomacy, but especially for developing states, is worth a treasure trove of economic development aid as a way to woo their votes.   

So let’s take a look at the continents, the players and the winners. 

Africa.   Angola, a petroleum rich former Portuguese colony, was elected unopposed.  Though still an authoritarian government lubricated both by petro dollars and corruption, Angola is not the socialist firebrand it was during the post-colonial era.  
As part of the Portuguese speaking, Lusophone world,  Angola can be expected to be a team player with Portugal and Brazil.

Asia/Pacific.  Malaysia, a multi-ethnic moderate Muslim state  ran unopposed for the Asian seat. Though an economic powerhouse, Malaysia has seen itself buffeted by ill fortune with two horrible airline disasters during a six month period.  Malaysia’s credentials  as an economic development model are widely respected. Moreover, Malaysia’s  strong commitment to UN peacekeeping operations has gained friends.  The Kuala Lumpur government has participated in thirty such operations with 29,000 soldiers participating over the years.  

Malaysia replaces the Republic of Korea whose tenure comes to an end; the Seoul government has participated in a tumultuous but crucial Council role. 

Latin America.  The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela garnered the Latin seat.  Despite being blocked by the Bush Administration in 2006 with a withering 48 ballot knockdown contest, this time the Caracas government won unopposed.  
Though the Obama team is not happy about Venezuela’s  victory, they did not try to block it via backing another regional candidate.

Besides being a political comrade of Castro’s Cuba, Venezuela’s socialist regime is close to Mainland China and Russia. Though Venezuela was one of the founders of the UN, in recent years and especially during the rule of the late Hugo Chavez, the country has descended deeper into poverty and social conflict. Venezuela replaces Argentina on the Council.

Both Angola and Venezuela have dismal human rights and media freedom records.  
In each of the above cases a secret ballot  guaranteed a vote for picking one out of one choice. 

West European and Others

This was the true political contest: select two out of three candidates.  
 New Zealand, a founding member of the UN was superbly qualified for the seat and won. When it comes to humanitarian aid and peacekeeping missions, New Zealand is one of the global good guys.  Their election, putting them back in the Council for the first time in 20 years, is richly merited.  New Zealand replaces Australia whose two-year stint was indeed impressive during these trying times. 

Spain also with strong UN credentials has been a powerful supporter of the organization; during the past 25 years  almost 140,000 Spanish troops have served in UN peacekeeping missions. Spain strongly backed by the European Union, won.    

Turkey, posed a more problematic choice.  Though the Turks have played a helpful and hospitable humanitarian role for Syrian refugees, the Ankara government  has been mired in the vortex of Mideast politics.  Equally the country’s Islamic-lite government has tilted the political balance away from Turkey’s  formerly staunchly secular political model.  Many UN delegates remain quietly nervous about what is seen as the creeping authoritarian in President Erdogan’s Turkey.  

So what does this mean for U.S. Policy?  Angola replaces Rwanda; negative. Malaysia replaces South Korea; slight loss.  Venezuela replaces Argentina; negative.  New Zealand replaces Australia; even.   Spain replaces Luxembourg; even.  A re-shuffled Security Council deck faces unprecedented challenges in the upcoming year.

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John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He’s the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations; Germany, Korea, China (2014).

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posted by John McClaughry

                After four years of avoiding taking a clear position on any issue that I can remember, Lt. Governor Phil Scott finally stepped up and announced his plan for dealing with ever rising school property tax increases.

According to a Vermont Digger report, “Vermont should consider a central, apolitical board to regulate school spending and decide whether districts should consolidate, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said. …changing the complex education funding formula won’t relieve tax-weary Vermonters unless schools also spend less”, he said.

Scott said he envisions an entity like the Green Mountain Care Board, the five-member panel created in 2011 to regulate health care costs in the state by approving hospital budgets and private insurance premium rates and the amounts that hospitals can receive for the services they provide. An education board could, for example, set parameters within which schools would be able to raise spending each year. Budget increases over a certain threshold might need board approval, Scott suggested.

The board could also be charged with deciding whether school districts or supervisory unions should consolidate, he said. It could also potentially play a role in setting property tax rates, Scott said.

Well there you have it. On top of Peter Shumlin’s Soviet style command and control model for government health care, the Republican Lt Governor wants a Soviet style command and control model for public education. Sigh.

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10-20-14 – To Have And To Have More

October 20, 2014

posted by Chris Campion Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, when not busily touting the successes of his single-payer campaign, recently spoke about how vital the tourism industry is to Vermont, and how the state is committed to boosting tourism in the state. “Columbus Day holiday weekend is the busiest of the year in Vermont, with visitors heading to [...]

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