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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

The Good With The Bad: 2013 in Review


If you asked me at any point during 2013 what kind of year I thought it was, I would have said lousy.  From a personal perspective it was trying to say the least.  Perhaps the brightest spot for me was fulfilling my 2012 New Year’s resolution of launching the new, improved iBrattleboro site on schedule in February 2013 thus marking the site’s 10th anniversary with a decided upgrade.  That felt good.   But personal issues aside, 2013 was an unusually mixed year with surprising news both good and bad.  First the bad.

The Boston Marathon bombing was a depressing incident through and through and while we may never know what really happened there, we can be sure that things like that will happen again. This year saw a continuation of random shootings, in malls, workplaces, and other typically safe places that seemed to pick up steam last year with the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.  Perhaps in time we’ll become desensitized to such events but not yet.

Some strange and troubling protests were carried out last year, both ending in death.  A man immolated himself on the Washington Mall this year fall, dousing himself with gasoline and lighting a match.  This is not the kind of thing we expect here in America, the world’s oldest democracy.  Around the same time, a DC woman tried to pay the White House a visit by ramming into the barrier with her car.  Police caught her blocks away and shot her to death, despite the fact that she was unarmed and had her child in the car with her.  

So-called healthcare reform was rolled out this year with a seriously malfunctioning web site that left a lot of potential insurees frustrated and annoyed.  Then a bunch more people found that the insurance policy they thought they could keep had been cancelled because it did not meet the standards of Obamacare.  I predict that next year’s health care reform woes will relate to our sudden realization that subsidizing millions of people into market rate private health insurance plans is expensive.

Fukushima contines to be an environmental tragedy and there is starting to be evidence that radiation from the stricken nuclear plant is affecting wildlife in the Pacific and on the West Coast.  The latest of these reports declared that over twenty bald eagles suddenly died in Utah.  Not a big deal, I suppose — it’s only our national bird and the emblem of our democracy.

Yet here in Vermont, Entergy pulled the plug on our own local nuke, rather without warning, having fought off a law suit just last year aimed at closing the plant.  Apparently, they wanted to shut down on their own terms. To some, this is a positive thing for the area, getting rid of the spectre of an aging and leaky nuclear plant just down the road.  But for others, it’s all but the beginning of the end and predictions range from serious loss of home values to the death of local mom and pop businesses.  

In another surprising turn of events, the United States did not go to war against Syria, despite its best efforts to do so.  Outfoxed by Russian premier Vladimir Putin, a chemical disarmament agreement was hammered out that prevented the U.S. from commencing hostilities.  So far, there have been no further chemical attacks in Syria and dismantlement of their chemical weapon stocks seems to be moving along quickly.    

Marijuana legalization efforts made gains this year, culminating with the decision by the voters of Colorado to simply legalize the stuff and be done with it.  Their tax rate on recreational cannabis is steep at 25% but judging from the lines on opening day, people were not deterred.  The state of Colorado stands to make a bundle on this which leads one to believe that legalization in other states cannot be far off.

The big story this year, however, topping them all in its life-changing, mind-altering scope, was the NSA domestic spying program revealed in June by whistleblower Edward Snowden.  The jaded among us may continue to claim that “we already knew”, but I don’t think we knew all that.  And while it’s somewhat depressing that no one seems to care (the most common reason being “I have nothing to hide”), I’m still not convinced that most people would like a permanent file containing every medical, education, finance, spending, telephone, search engine, social media, and email record we’ve ever generated retained by the federal government in perpetuity just in case we step out of line at some point in the future and become the target of government scrutiny.  Or maybe we do.  

2013 was not our brightest year by a long shot, but it contained more than a few positive surprises, from the success of diplomacy in Syria to the shocking revelations of the Snowden affair.  Such surprise events embody change — hopefully, a change for the better.  

Happy 2014, everyone!

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Thank You

One of the bright spots has been being able to have a place like ibrattleboro you created to freely access a forum for community discussion in the moment, especially on important local issues, thanks again, happy 2014, it has to be a better year ahead no doubt!!

 
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A few local notes

Last year locally we saw

- the Coop struggle and regain its footing after building a new space
- new seats, ceilings and energy at the Latchis
- Town Meeting Reps seriously discussed slashing the school budget
- The Selectboard has been more outgoing and explanatory
- A new Brattleboro History Center on Main Street!
- The Brooks House renovation was funded and is underway.
- A big move toward renewable energy projects for the Town (and others)
- A skatepark site selection committee formed
- Plans for a new BHA facility near Exit 1.
- We've managed without a Town Manager for half the year
- More decorations in December than ever before. Nice lighting of buildings, too.
- New Chevy dealership building
- Kipling Theater becomes Aldi supermarket
- Some pizza places close; some pizza places open.

What am I forgetting?

- New directors for the Chamber, BaBB, BDCC
- A failed, and new Town manager hiring process

 
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Please check your facts more carefully, and don't lose hope.

The news media nowadays engage in a lot of clickbaiting, which is where they say something outrageous in order to get people to click on the link to the article, which has a headline that sounds shocking but just barely credible. These stories typically turn out to have no real substance. The stories you cited about Fukushima are in that category.

We did already know that the NSA was doing the stuff they were doing, but we didn't know precisely the extent of what they were doing (honestly, some of the things they did are so stupid and damaging to national security that they beggar the imagination). Because there was little proof, we couldn't have a public policy debate about it: when we theorized about what they might be doing, people would accuse us of wearing tinfoil hats. Now we can have a public policy debate about it. That's good news.

The state of the world is suffering. They don't call it the vale of tears for nothing. But when you read the news, please do bear in mind that it's specifically geared to get eyeballs focused on ads. Bad news, particularly scary bad news, is the best possible way to do that. So that's what you find in the newspaper, on TV, and online. It doesn't mean good things aren't happening.

You might find Robert Reich's pep talk from last may heartening: http://robertreich.org/post/50383363563

 
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Fact and opinions

Regarding the dead eagles in Utah, tis true we don't know what killed them but as far as I know, nothing's been ruled out. My personal feeling (this was op/ed, after all) is that it's unlikely that there have been no effects from Fukushima outside the danger zone of that part of Japan. My guess is we'll never know but dead eagles in high numbers of any cause short of old age is a bad thing.

As far as using news stories to sell ads, sure, headlines are sometimes trumped up. But as far as I know, they aren't to the point of manufacturing the stories themselves. Yet. ;)

I'm with you about the national debate on domestic surveillance. That was a good thing.

And finally, vale of tears, yes. But isn't that mostly because make it so?

 
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Bad science

That malarkey you posted about Fukushima and eagles, etc. is no different than the crackpots who want to teach the controversy, whether it be creationism or denying climate change.

Nice back pedal though.

 
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Pro nuke

I get that you're pro-nuke. I'm not. That's all. Ditto regarding the coment below. So Fukushima had no impact on the natural environment except at the site of the plant? Ok, sure, let's believe that for a while. ;)

 
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Nice Straw Man There

I get that you are an anti-nuke who misuses science to further your cause, facts be damned. That is all.

 
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Leaks

Who said anything about science? ;)

 
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You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

Whether someone is pro- or anti- something doesn't matter. What matters is what we know. We know for sure that the eagles didn't die as a result of Fukushima. I'm more of a solar energy/cow power kind of guy, but I still know that this is true. This isn't a game of football, where the outcome is just for our entertainment. It actually matters what the truth is. PutneyReject wasn't very polite, but that doesn't mean s/he is wrong, and if you are going to talk about this stuff as if it is just a matter of opinion, you have no business writing editorials.

 
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Fabrication and fabulation

Acute death from radiation is something that happens as a result of massive cell death due to direct exposure to intense radiation, not something that happens because you are exposed to some radioactive isotopes in low concentration. There is exactly zero chance that the eagles died as a result of Fukushima, unless they were there when it melted down. If you read a story that linked the eagle deaths to Fukushima, then it was indeed completely fabricated.

The story about Fukushima causing massive die-offs on the west coast of the U.S. is in fact documented to have been completely fabricated. There was a study that documented the die-offs, which didn't mention Fukushima at all, and a newspaper reporter printed it and added the connection to Fukushima, and then the news wires picked it up because it sounded like good click-bait. Fact checking isn't quite dead yet—the New Yorker still does it—but it's very much on the wane, and you absolutely should not assume that some story you read on the Internet is true just because it's been repeated a lot. This is really important if you are going to be writing editorials—you have to do the fact-checking yourself, and assuming that anything that looks like click-bait is essentially fabricated.

Just to give you a little bit of evidence, read down past the picture in this article and you'll see what I mean: http://www.policymic.com/articles/78287/fukushima-radiation-scare-storie...

Also, in case you think I'm an apologist for the nuclear industry, that is not what's going on here. The Fukushima disaster was a really bad thing, and it's by no means over, and I am just as worried as you probably are about the 30 billion dollar cleanup bill that the Japanese government is facing because of all the soil contamination near Fukushima.

But we have to base our public discourse on facts, not clickbait lies. We live in a democracy: to the extent that we listen to and repeat lies, we wind up basing our public policy on those lies. That's how we got into the situation we're in. The buck has to stop here—we citizens have to make sure that we are careful and critical readers as we sift through the information we see on the Internet. If we don't commit to doing this, things really aren't going to get better, and as you say, we will be to blame.

 
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dead eagles

According to Huff Po, those eagles died of west nile disease.

 

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