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August 2011

August 26, 2011

Which Vermont Towns Had Highest (and Lowest) Unemployment?

Unemployment4 Think Vermonters have been insulated from the U.S. unemployment crisis? Think again.

Public Assets Institute, the data-savvy Montpelier think tank, is out with a cool new interactive map that charts Vermont's 2010 unemployment rates town by town. And the figures are sobering. 

While Vermont can boast a statewide unemployment rate of 6.2 percent (far below the national average of 9.1 percent), Vermonters in many towns — particularly in the Northeast Kingdom — remained out of work last year.

According to Vermont Department of Labor data collected by PAI, jobless rates for individual Vermont towns ranged from zero (in Averill) to 20.5 percent in the border town of Norton, population 214. All told, 23 Vermont towns had unemployment rates that averaged 10 percent or more last year.

Click here for the map. (Note: the image at right is not interactive. You'll have to go to PAI's site for that.)

August 25, 2011

Sanders Proposes Legislation to Make Rich Pay More Into Social Security

DSC00309 In case you missed the message at today's press conference, Sen. Bernie Sanders helpfully restated it several times: "Social Security is not in crisis."

Citing Congressional Budget Office estimates, Sanders told reporters at his Burlington office that Social Security has enough money to pay out 100 percent of its promised benefits for another 27 years. It's the years after that that are the problem. By 2038, Social Security will only have enough to pay 80 percent of promised benefits.

Sanders said Social Security is under attack from Washington budget-cutters who have lumped it in the deficit-reduction debate. They want to solve the future shortfall, he explained, by raising the retirement age or reducing cost of living adjustments (COLAs) to Social Security recipients. Social Security recipients haven't received a cost of living adjustment in two years. Reducing COLAs even more would be "absurd," Sanders said. For instance, Sanders said that under one proposed funding formula, a 65-year-old living on $16,000 a year would receive $560 less a year when he turned 75, and $1000 a year less when he reached 85.

Sanders said that, because Social Security is funded by the payroll tax and not the U.S. Treasury, it "hasn't contributed a nickel to the deficit" and should be decoupled from upcoming debt talks by the so-called Super Congress.

So today, Sanders announced legislation that, he said, pursues a "fairer" way to make Social Security solvent for the next 75 years. Anyone want to take a wild guess about how the senator plans to do that? (If you read the headline, you're disqualified from answering!).

Continue reading "Sanders Proposes Legislation to Make Rich Pay More Into Social Security" »

Movies You Missed 1: Road to Nowhere

Road-to-nowhere There are many great things about living in Vermont, but movies aren't always one of them.

Sure, we've got great theaters — the Roxy, Palace, Savoy and Catamount Arts. But I can't tell you how many times people have asked me something like "When is The Messenger/Blue Valentine/Attack the Block coming to Burlington?" And the answer is: "It hasn't yet." Or, "it did and you missed it."

If you happen to be interested in a movie that's weird or depressing or subtitled or otherwise box-office poison, you may have to wait for the DVD. Or the download, or whatever. And if you're like me, by the time it's available, you've forgotten about it.

Continue reading "Movies You Missed 1: Road to Nowhere" »

Town of Colchester Hosts Open House at Former Camp Holy Cross

Holy Cross 1 On Tuesday night, August 23, my wife, Stacy and I, along with our daughter and several of our neighbors, strolled over to the Malletts Bay property formerly known as Camp Holy Cross. The town of Colchester was hosting the first of two open houses for local residents interested in eyeballing the property, which went on the market just last year.

On October 4, Colchester voters will decide whether to buy the 26-acre camp from the Catholic Diocese of Vermont for a cool $4.5 million. As readers may recall, the diocese was forced to sell off the land in order to cover the cost of its legal settlements with victims of a priest sex-abuse case — another step toward absolving the sins of the father, as it were.

For Stacy and me, this was the first time we could sneak a peek at land we pass every day but that has remained hidden for years behind a dense thicket of trees and forbidding "NO TRESPASSING" signs. Plus, the offer of free refreshments made it a no-brainer.

At about 5:30 p.m., our contingent of baby strollers, backpacks and bicycles arrived at the camp. Already, the dirt parking lot beside the "chapel," as well as the overflow parking area, were filled with cars. A line of residents waiting patiently for free food snaked away from a massive grill. Manning the fire was Colchester Police Chief Charles Kirker, who did more than his fair share of "serving" his citizens — specifically, several hundred burgers and hotdogs.

Ostensibly, the point of this two-hour show-and-tell, attended by various and sundry town officials as well as more than 150 residents, was to impress upon voters the magnitude of this once-in-a-generation opportunity. As I heard repeated often, by town officials and residents alike, if Colchester voters don't jump on this prime chunk of lakefront real estate, then some savvy developer will swoop in and turn it into a gated community of McMansions, making this visit the first and last time most of us will ever see it.

As someone who firmly believes in investing in public infrastructure, especially new parks, I supported the idea of the town buying this land even before seeing it firsthand. Still, as a voter who may be asked to pony up an extra $20 to $40 per year in property taxes to pay for it, I wanted to see exactly what we'd be getting for our tax dollars. I must admit, except for the impressive views of Lake Champlain, the 1600 feet of sandy beach and a well-maintained chapel, the facilities were, shall we say, underwhelming.

Continue reading "Town of Colchester Hosts Open House at Former Camp Holy Cross" »

August 24, 2011

Plaintiffs Lose Round in Burlington Telecom Lawsuit

BT Here's the latest on the citizen lawsuit aimed at recouping $17 million in taxpayer money from Burlington Telecom.

Superior Court Judge Helen Toor has ruled that Burlington Telecom was permitted to use general fund money — i.e. city taxpayer dollars — to pay a consultant hired to restructure the debt-laden municipal telecom. The ruling deals a setback to the two Burlington residents who brought the lawsuit, former city councilors Fred Osier and Gene Shaver, who had argued that spending  taxpayer money violated a 2010 court order.

Before we go further, some background: Burlington officials are under fire for loaning $17 million from the city's cash pool to Burlington Telecom and failing to pay it back within 60 days, a violation of its state license. In February 2010, a Blue Ribbon Commission assembled to address the violations concluded BT was a "valuable asset" and recommended the city hire a specialist in business restructuring to rescue the municipal cable, telephone and Internet provider. Without a major fix, the commission said, the city risked never recapturing $15 million to $20 million invested in BT's fiber network.

Continue reading "Plaintiffs Lose Round in Burlington Telecom Lawsuit" »

VT Ski Movie Needs a Logo

Britton Vermonters Len Britton and Bradford Broyles (pictured) are using an online contest to find a logo for their planned ski movie. This is the movie project we reported on back in March -- not one of those "ski movies" that's basically just cool skiing footage, but a "comedy-drama" type of thing that happens to be set at a ski resort. Tremors director Ron Underwood is helming the production.

Broyles says the production will get ski footage at Sugarbush and visit "selected Vermont towns for the off-mountain portions." In keeping with the general Vermontiness of the project, its original working title was Woodchucks, but that's since been changed to Down Hill: The Movie.

From now through Monday, August 29, the filmmakers are inviting designers to submit logos incorporating that title at the crowdsourcing site They'd love to see some Vermont participation, says Broyles. Enter the contest here, or check out the 93 designs (and counting) entered so far. The ski-goggle-shaped logo seems to be doing well...


August 23, 2011

Vermonters Freak Out Over Earthquake


Comic by

So, I don't know if you've heard, but there was an earthquake today. A 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia was felt all over the East Coast and into parts of the Midwest. It was kind of a big deal in Washington, D.C., actually. The Smithsonian Castle sustained a bit of damage, and three of the pinnacles on the National Cathedral broke off. (But no, the Washington Monument is not leaning. And yes, Fox News said that.)

Yep, that's the same shaking we felt all the way up here. Seems kind of wild that we could feel a Virginia-centered quake in Vermont, right? Turns out it's because the rock here is "colder and denser," which allows earthquake shaking to travel a longer distance than out West. So now you know.

Continue reading "Vermonters Freak Out Over Earthquake" »

In Memoriam: Paul Robar, Owner of Benways Transportation (1955-2011)

Paul Robar A giant of the Burlington taxi community has passed away.

Paul L. Robar of Colchester, who built Benways Transportation into the largest taxi company in Chittenden County, died last Thursday, August 18. He was 55 years old.

Robar purchased Benways Transportation in 1973; he was also the owner of Morf Transit and Apollo Limousine. He was hospitalized in critical condition on July 27 after crashing his car on North Avenue in Burlington; he apparently suffered a brain aneurysm while driving. Police said Robar was traveling south on North Avenue when his car left the roadway and brushed a telephone pole and a tree, causing the airbags to deploy.

Recently, he had been a vocal opponent of the city of Burlington's new taxi regulations and threatened to pull his business out of the city if they were enacted, pledging to take "every legal action known to mankind to fight them." Passed by the city council on July 11, the regulations require all cabs to install taximeters by next year and impose a host of other restrictions on cabbies. Robar had predicted taximeters would cost riders more than the current zone pricing system.

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Alice Eats: Hong Kong Jade Restaurant

IMG_2662-1 5 Market Street, South Burlington, 658-3626

It's fair season. One of my favorite dining destinations of the year, the Champlain Valley Fair, starts this Saturday. Last week, I got a head start on some classic fair foods at the latest Chinese buffet on the block, Hong Kong Jade Restaurant, which occupies the South Burlington space until recently filled by the Orchid.

Dining out is always fun, but rarely have I been anywhere with quite the carnival atmosphere of Hong Kong Jade. For $7.99 each (the slightly higher weekend price), we were treated to a Saturday lunch that included everything one would expect from a Chinese buffet, plus make-your-own noodle soup, fried dough and all the cotton candy we wanted.

The only downside, of course, was that this was a Chinese buffet. The food was not exactly memorable. Sweet and sour pork was wincingly sweet. So was the honey chicken. Oily but otherwise nondescript veggie lo mein was nothing to write home about, nor was the pork fried rice. However, a few elements helped Hong Kong Jade rise above its gimmicks.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: Hong Kong Jade Restaurant" »

Vermont Pipeline Protestor Arrested in D.C. Describes Experience

Disobedient demonstrators arrested in a climate-change protest at the White House on Saturday were held in what one Vermont detainee called “deliberately harsh” conditions before being released without penalties on Monday afternoon.

Christopher Shaw, a 62-year-old Bristol resident, writer and Middlebury College lecturer, suggests that federal and District of Columbia police were trying to discourage activists from moving ahead with daily arrests planned for the next two weeks.

If that's so, the authorities' strategy is not proving successful. A total of 93 demonstrators were arrested at the White House on Sunday and Monday in addition to the 65 locked up on Saturday. Organizers of the effort to persuade President Obama to block a Canada-Texas oil pipeline say about 1500 people have pledged to join the civil-disobedience campaign scheduled to continue through September 3. A contingent of Vermonters plans to travel by bus from Burlington to Washington on August 28.

Continue reading "Vermont Pipeline Protestor Arrested in D.C. Describes Experience" »

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