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OPINION    Friday, February 11, 2005         Subscribe!
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Letters to the editor

God's blues band

"Thanks for the memories" to Big Joe Burrell -- doesn't even come close. Unknown Blues Band? A refreshing melodic oxymoron if ever there was one.

Tens of thousands of Vermonters will remember Big Joe Burrell and the Unknown Blues Band in over 100,000 different ways.

Let's honor legendary "Big Joe" Burrell, his family and his legacy by naming the Burlington Boathouse after him and erect a life-size statue. Imagine the huge sign reading: Big Joe Burrell's Boathouse -- just the thought of it makes me smile!

For more years than I can recall, Big Joe and innumerable "Friends" jammed at the Boathouse almost every Fourth of July while tens of thousands listened and watched the fireworks. Big Joe's fireworks!

I also fondly remember Big Joe at the 2003 Mardi Gras parade in Burlington, proudly smiling from the center of his float and tossing out inflated saxophones to the children. Big Joe was happy to do it, eager to please and full of life.

Perhaps, too, either Barre's Rock of Ages Corp. (how appropriate) and/or members of the Barre Granite Association will deem it worthy to create and donate a full sized statue of Big Joe for all Vermonters to reflect upon. The enormous positive impact Big Joe has unselfishly and lovingly provided Vermont and the world must not be forgotten.

Heaven is all the more richer with Big Joe Burrell in his eternal gig -- God's blues band.


As good as it gets

My wife, Barbara, and I were honored to have experienced Big Joe Burrell and Friends at Halvorson's each Thursday night for the past two years. We became regulars because we knew we were seeing something special, something that would not likely come our way again. I often commented to whoever would listen to me that the very best Thursday night music on the planet could be had on Church Street in Burlington, Vermont. If it had been Manhattan, Amsterdam, Paris, or Seattle it would have cost hundreds of dollars and without the ambiance and soulful scene that was present at Halvorson's.

Joe attracted all ages and welcomed all-comers to sit in with the band. From early teens, to local college musicians, to well-established professional artists they all came for the experience of jamming with this masterful old school artist. So impressive to me was not only his world-class saxophone sound, but also his soulful heartfelt singing. He could really belt out the blues or melodiously sing a ballad with a voice that seemed to improve with age. His rendering of "It's a Wonderful World" was as good as it gets.

As much of a loss Big Joe's death is for all of us it will certainly be felt by the musicians he played with including the members of the Unknown Blues Band, his Halvorson's Friends, and the countless other musicians he touched. But, we will all cherish the time we were able to spend with this great human being. And Big Joe seemed to cherish the time he was able to spend with all of us, telling his stories, sharing his music and passing on his knowledge to the next generation. He surely must have felt fortunate to spend his entire life doing what he loved best. And I will always believe that "when the train pulls into Essex, Big Joe comes jumpin' out."


Wetland path

The Winooski Parks and Recreation Department is proposing a foot path from the bridge to nowhere at Ethan Allen Homestead over Route 127 heading west around the embankment through a wetland and ending at North Avenue, near the Alliance Church.

Their argument states there will be no erosion to the embankment, nor interference with the wildlife. Their expert on environment stated that humans and wildlife could co-exist. Sure, but that doesn't mean that the wildlife will stay, nor did the ducks say we can put up with the humans!

Recently it was reported a house in Jericho will be demolished because it is too close to a wetland. This proposed path goes right through a wetland. I was told that any concerns or arguments supporting wildlife preservation wouldn't make a difference in their decision.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the parks department started all their testing for this project and the residents who live on the top of the embankment knew nothing about what they were proposing.

It's typical that we people have no say in what might affect us. Enough said for now.


Terrific school

Last week was National Catholic Schools Week and Catholic schools in our area celebrated with open houses and other special events.

My daughter will be graduating this year from St. Francis Xavier school in Winooski. This school has been a terrific match for her. Her experience there has enabled her to focus on scholastic interests, and discover her personal attributes and faith without overwhelming peer pressure.

The environment at St. Francis Xavier is kind, positive, encouraging and respectful toward every person in the school -- from preschool students all the way to the administrative team. The school promotes family and community in combination with their academic agenda.

The dedicated teachers at St. Francis Xavier give value with praise and respect to each student as an individual. Students clearly know that their presence in the school is important and wanted, further building their sense of belonging to a family that cares about them. All of this creates an atmosphere where students can relax, be comfortable with themselves and focus on learning.

When students graduate from St. Francis Xavier school they have a solid beginning to discovering their role as human beings.

I recommend St. Francis Xavier school to any parent who wishes for their child to have a wholesome educational experience.


Options on death

Anyone with a painful terminal illness should have options about how they will die. I support the Death with Dignity bill that was recently introduced in the House of Representatives in Montpelier. This bill would bring compassionate choices to Vermonters who are suffering at the end of their lives. I would like to have this choice for myself, my family and my friends.

I have read about the successful experience in Oregon, where a similar bill has been in place for seven years. Our Vermont bill would include the same safeguards that are in the Oregon law, and, as independent research has shown, the law is working very well there. Death with Dignity choices have not been abused or misused in Oregon and an added benefit has been that hospice and comfort care actually improved after the legislation was passed.

The Vermont bill would allow a terminally ill, mentally competent adult to request and receive medication to have a calm death at a time and in a way they choose. It's such a shame that patients who are suffering so much as they die are currently forced to make these decisions in secret without help from their doctors. The bill gives important oversight to the process and protects both patients and doctors. It will make it legal for a doctor to comply with a patient's plea for relief from terrible pain. Just knowing this option is available canbring great peace of mind to people facing the end of their lives.

I am one of the large majority of Vermonters supporting this legislation (78 percent in the poll done by Zogby International). The Death with Dignity bill would give care and support to patients in extreme pain and I hope the bill passes soon.


Creating a diversion

Thanks to the writer of "Adjust the system" (Free Press, Jan. 31) for his well-thought-out letter on the Social Security privatization issue. Indeed the system is not broken and our president is lying to us to promote his radical agenda. The proposal to increase the limit on taxable income will clearly work. Folks making over $90,000 will be paying more, but they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they are doing a good thing. The Social Security System provides a bare subsistence income to those of us who are too old or infirm to work. This was a good idea when the system was started some 70 years ago and it is still a good idea.

Why is the president spending so much time on this issue right now? It could be that he would like to divert our attention from the miserable war in Iraq which he started by mistake. I'm sure a lot of folks would gladly chip in a few extra bucks if he would like to retire early.


Get real

I'm a little sick and tired of Killington trying to leave Vermont. Do these people realize the big picture? If they become part of New Hampshire who will plow their roads? If there is a major fire or crime are they comfortable waiting until New Hampshire State Police arrive? And it will be a long ride for their children to go to a secondary school.

Let's get real; if they don't like the state education funding then move to New Hampshire, we aren't holding them against their will. This is an insult to fellow Vermonters that are proud of their heritage.


Minimum wage

Except for a few employers stating that an increased minimum wage will force them to trim workers, writers have been generally supportive so that "the lowest paid Vermonters do not fall further behind." ("Increase wage," Free Press, Feb. 1) I suspect these supporters do not see the whole picture.

If you are not low income, or otherwise know firsthand how low-wage workers survive, I ask that you do research before disturbing an economic ecology with unforeseen and undesirable consequences. Adjustments in other areas may need to be made as well, especially in state health care programs. I am an example of being considerably less well off after my cost of living adjustment (COLA).

There are anecdotes of people losing health care coverage due to increased wages. During the last election season, the Free Press reported a working mother in Randolph had her state health insurance terminated due to getting a raise. Personally, my Social Security COLA of $36 is actually netting me less monthly income than last year because my state health plan changed to one where I pay considerably more out of pocket. Therefore, I ask those people who advocate for a higher minimum wage to also research the potential negative effects of increasing the minimum wage.

How many people were recently terminated from a state health care program by the extra $43 monthly made by a full-time worker? Were other programs that supported the worker terminated or scaled back, like food stamps, fuel assistance, Lifeline telephone credit, and subsidized rent, so that there was little or no net increase in income seen, and possibly even a loss?


Keep an open mind

As the Free Press recently reported, two detailed alternatives to the proposed Williston segment of the Circ Highway have been released. These alternatives were prepared by two highly respected Vermont transportation planners, one the former Transportation Planning Director for the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, the other Vice President of a Norwich-based transportation planning firm. The two alternatives deal with traffic congestion on Route 2A in Essex and Williston much more effectively than the proposed Circ Highway, and a cost of between ten and thirty million dollars less.

One of the alternatives -- called the "Circ Street" -- would also convert the proposed Circ Highway right-of-way into an attractive through street with bicycle and pedestrian facilities; provide direct access from the IBM and Chittenden County Solid Waste facilities to Interstate 89; and set a framework for compact neighborhood development in portions of Williston.

I urge all Chittenden County residents and elected officials concerned about traffic and transportation, including Circ supporters, to take a look at these alternatives with an open mind. The alternatives report, as well as a summary of the key findings in the report, can be found on the Web at: http://www.vtsprawl.org/

The writer is editor of the Planning Commissioners Journal, a national publication dealing with planning and land-use based in Burlington.

Waste of effort

We must keep listening in order to determine if it was a waste of effort to elect all those Democrats to the Vermont Legislature.

Consider the minimum wage -- now less than $15,000 per year. The prospect of adding a cost of living feature is encouraging. That is even supported by our Republican governor. However, Senate Democrats have already given up on any significant increase in the minimum wage.

There is no evidence that the Democrats are willing to struggle with the Republican administration's bureaucracy. Agency of Human Services bosses refuse to facilitate education and job skill training for many single mothers. That will continue poverty into the next generation. Such policy will contribute customers for AHS's "Corrections" Dept. Per capita increase in imprisonment by Vermont leads the nation.

Will the Legislature allow the closing of several offices of the Department of Employment and Training? Republican Sen. Vince Illuzzi has the budgetary solution. Eliminate several of the bureaucrats at their big Montpelier office.

One thing is encouraging. There is more public pressure on the Legislature to enact universal health care.


Keep waterfront open

Let us keep our waterfront free so all the public can enjoy it for years to come. I would suggest the Moran plant be removed and the land remain open. I see no reason for the rush.

The YMCA I'm sure can find alternative sites or perhaps build a satellite facility. We cannot let that prime 2.7 acres be given away for 99 years.


State of the Union

A picture is worth a thousand words, and the image from the State of the Union address of the fallen Marine's mother being embraced by the liberated Iraqi woman is one that will stand the test of time. That one image answers two years of questions asking why, and for what cause are we fighting a war so far away? Is one man's life worth the price of freedom for another? For Miss al-Souhail, the gratitude for the sacrifices of our brave fighting men and women was evident in her tears and the proud display of her ink-stained finger.

Amidst the sorrow of their losses, the family of Byron Norwood and the families of all our fallen must now, more than ever, understand the duty their sons and daughters felt to spread liberty to the oppressed. That feeling, woven deep in their moral fiber, that they must do something to give others the freedoms we so much enjoy in America. The pride of these families, I hope in time, will help to ease the pain they now feel.

It is in the swollen hearts of proud and courageous pa- triots like Byron Norwood that the future of this country will stand. And I believe, for every man and woman we have lost to the eternal in this fight against evil, there are tenfold living out their lives below, gracious beyond words, that someone believed in liberty enough to sacrifice their own life, so that they could live theirs in freedom.


Encourage wind power

Our ski industry in Vermont is responsible for $1.4 billion in annual spending. Family recreation including cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are also invaluable to the quality of life we enjoy during Vermont's winter months.

Personally, I enjoy all of the above activities and realize that they are all in jeopardy. Global warming could in the next century eliminate cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, which rely on natural snow while crippling our commercial ski industry. Vermont is a small state but we must do everything we can to address this threat and hope that other states follow our example.

Locally generated, clean, and cheap energy is part of the solution and we must invest in it now. Wind could provide 15 percent of our state's energy needs through responsible siting on a fraction of our ridgelines. For the long-term health of our environment we should support and encourage more wind energy in Vermont.

The writer works for Vermont Public Interest Research Group on renewable energy issues.

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