A clearer look at the poverty problem

Editor of the Reformer:

I read your "Solving the poverty problem" editorial (March 26) with ... disappointment. I have five comments.

First, you quote Marc Thiessen: "... the Democrat-led war on poverty failed ... the number of Americans living at or near poverty is higher than in 1964." This is true; there were 40 million living in poverty in 1960 and 46 million in 2010. Of course, the U.S. population was 179 million in 1960 and 309 million in 2010.

The poverty rate tells a truer story. It was 22.5 percent in 1960 and 11.1 percent 1973. It is 15 percent today. It went down under Democrats and remained steady or increased under Republicans. If we had remained at the 1960 level, there would be 69.5 Americans in poverty today. The war on poverty didn’t fail. It succeeded but was stopped short because of Vietnam.

Second, you cite Paul Ryan’s definition of the problem (a "tailspin of culture") and then offer his solution. He suggests that we solve the problem "... through a good mentoring program or some religious charity ... And that is how we help resuscitate our culture." We have been relying on charity to solve poverty for at least 2,000 years. If we rely upon charity and culture, we’ll still be relying on them 2,000 years from now. The point is Mr. Ryan wants us to believe that we can solve poverty without spending government money.

Third, you lend support to Mr.


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Ryan by saying "... we need to put more emphasis on grassroots community-based efforts." Republican governors currently refuse to extend Medicaid coverage to the poor under Obamacare, even though the federal government will pay 90 percent of the costs. Community action is required and was part of the war on poverty, but I would expect Republicans to undermine such efforts.

Fourth, you suggest that Democrats and Republicans should work together to produce "one grand plan." Mr. Obama has been seeking a grand bargain with the Republicans on the economy since he took office. It is well-known that the Republicans’ tactic has been to oppose Mr. Obama on everything, including the economy. It does not seem practical to talk about working together on eliminating poverty.

Fifth, there are two categories of programs. There are anti-poverty programs, e.g., skills training, whose purpose it is to provide the chronically poor with the whatever they need to obtain employment and rise out of poverty. There are safety-net programs, e.g., Medicaid, whose purpose it is to provide a humane life for people while they are in poverty. Mr. Ryan tries to conflate the two. He seeks to brand safety-net programs in the public mind as anti-poverty programs. Then, his logic is: anti-poverty programs have failed; safety-net programs are anti-poverty programs; therefore, safety-net programs have failed; having failed, we should de-fund and eventually eliminate safety-net programs.

I hope it is clear that Mr. Ryan has no interest in solving the poverty problem.

Tom Bertone,

Dummerston, March 31

If the system
isn’t broken ... ?

Editor of the Reformer:

Included in a larger article in the March 29 Reformer about activities in the Vermont Legislature is a reference to H.883 ("Senator wants financial answers for health care"), a bill recently reported out of the House Committee on Education, and proposing to abolish our current system of town school boards.

While it is surely ill-advised, I was interested to see your characterization of the bill as being "controversial." I do read the paper carefully, and can recall two previous reports on this legislation, but except for one letter to your desk I wrote a month or so ago, I haven’t seen much public comment about this proposal. I do note the opposition of your columnist John McLaughry, which provided me with a rare chance to agree with one of his positions.

If this bill is truly headed toward deliberation in the full House, it would be good to see some informed commentary about it. At the moment, we seem to have the sponsors’ admission that one of the original reasons for the legislation -- reining in education costs -- is now no longer considered a probable result. So we’re left, according to the March 29 story, with two reasons for dismantling the local school board system, and those who haven’t heard this, hold onto your seats.

Reason No. 1, according to a committee member from Brattleboro is to cut "our 282 school districts into 30 to 60 districts so that superintendents will have fewer school boards to report to and less-redundant administrative tasks to do."

Reason No. 2 quotes Secretary of Education Holcombe: "According to Holcombe and many other education leaders, larger district units will stabilize education leadership and create an environment in which schools can innovate."

As a former school board member and chair in my town, I will happily provide this official with extensive information about the "stable education leadership" our hard-working and thoughtful board and administration provided, and with numerous innovative programs put in place by a number of highly creative and skilled teachers with our support. I can cite similar qualities in neighboring towns.

The item about making superintendents’ jobs easier truly isn’t worthy of a serious answer, and is certainly not a reason to dismantle a well-functioning, community-based educational system.

Don McLean,

Guilford, March 31

Energy source
vs. storage medium

Editor of the Reformer:

"Believe it or not, these cars drive on air," on the front page of the April 3 issue of the Reformer, is very misleading. It suggests that, since cars powered by compressed air have zero emissions, their use will reduce society’s carbon footprint and other kinds of air pollution. The reasoning here is incorrect. Compressed air is not an energy source; it is a medium for storing energy. Compressed air is formed when ordinary air (free for the taking) is compressed by an air compressor. In order to compress the air, the compressor’s motor needs an energy source. The energy source could be a fossil fuel, such as gasoline or diesel fuel, which is burned to release energy, as well as various polluting gases. Alternatively, the motor’s energy source could be electricity, which might be produced by burning fossil fuel, likewise polluting the air, or by fissioning uranium, polluting the landscape with radioactive spent fuel rods. Only if the electricity is generated in a non-polluting way -- hydroelectric, wind, solar -- will the operation of a compressed-air-powered vehicle be truly non-polluting.

The above discussion, focussing on the energy source rather than the energy storage medium, applies as well to other zero-emission vehicles, for example, electric cars powered entirely by rechargeable batteries. It would have been valuable if the Reformer article had included a short discussion comparing the cost and efficiency of compressed air versus rechargeable batteries as energy storage media.

Calvin Farwell,

West Dummerston, April 3