Bill Schubart

Commentator

Bill Schubart lives and writes in Hinesburg. His latest book is Lila & Theron.

Schubart: Megabanks

Jun 3, 2015

The news was stunning. Barclays, Citibank, J.P. Morgan - Chase, RBS, Bank of America - Merrill Lynch, and UBS, all pled guilty to illegal currency and LIBOR rate manipulation and agreed to pay some $5.5B in aggregate fines – pocket-change for most and no jail terms for any executives – but, nonetheless, an unequivocal institutional admission of guilt and not the usual claim of “a few rogue bad guys.”

Senator John Campbell has been an outspoken opponent of establishing ethical oversight for the legislature until his recent epiphany inspired by the arrest of Senator Norm McAllister led to an abrupt about-face. He now stresses the need for such a panel in his words to “…provide a forum to clear your name when accused by a journalist or blogger.”

We pride ourselves on being a nation of laws, perhaps too many laws. Much as we try, we can never translate moral obligations or prohibitions into legal ones. Moral codes differ with time, culture, and religion. Our Constitution enshrines the diversity of moral codes, but demands consistency in the enactment and enforcement of our laws.

Conservatives want to reduce government services that alleviate the effects of poverty, addiction, crime, illiteracy, and disease. Liberals want to increase them. But what if both were wrong and our goal instead were to manage towards an economy that creates resilience and enables self-sufficiency for all working Vermonters, eliminating their dependence on non-profit or government support?

The legislature has a four-speed gear box: inaction, study, nibble around the edges, and overdrive. The under-utilized overdrive gear brings forth bold action and initiates substantive change. The perennial re-appearance of all-too-familiar problems argues for a shift into high gear.

The well-being of citizens and their economy are interdependent and a functioning democracy balances and sustains the natural confluence of both. Otherwise, democracy may weaken and even fail.

Common sense names don’t work for politicians. What you or I would call “tax exemptions,” they call “tax expenditures.” Let me explain.

Schubart: Gun Sense

Feb 2, 2015

I got my first gun when I was eleven. I’d taken the NRA safety course at Camp Timanous in Maine and, as a reward, was given a Winchester .22 rifle by my parents. I was only allowed to use it for target practice, shooting rats at the dump, and small game hunting with Dad.

There’s a lot of discussion these days about empathy, whether rich people have it or not and if so, where does it come from. There are to two prevalent theories: that it’s inborn – genetically-based – or that, wealth eliminates any need to experience empathy from others since it can satisfy its own needs and thus it never takes root in them.

Schubart: Diet

Dec 31, 2014

Vermont needs to lose weight. Although our population is stable, our demography is changing. We’re older and becoming more urban. The local institutions that nurtured us when our dispersed villages were economically robust and filled with children and working people have grown too expensive.

While income for the wealthy living on dividends and interest has risen along with our cost of living, income from labor has remained fixed for several decades. We now have a state that working Vermonters can’t afford and well-heeled Vermonters don’t want to pay for.  

For some of us, Christmas still brings to mind Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales recorded for the BBC in 1942. But we’ve become so enthralled by the frenzy of credit-fed consumption, that the spirit of this classic Christmas story seems almost archaic, of another time.

I’ve often wondered why Thanksgiving means so much to us as a family. But we’ve always treasured this historic holiday about our founding as a nation, whereas for us Christmas is an uncomfortable combination of religion and consumerism.

We can’t keep doing things the way we are in education. The costs are unsustainable and results are questionable, especially as connectivity, content distribution, and career options evolve. It’s not just about the money.

There’s some discussion these days about the survival of free-market capitalism.

Conservatives argue that free-market capitalism, left to its own devices will strike a balance between the interests of workers of all socio-economic classes wanting to earn a living and amass wealth, and the general economic health of the nation, which they seem to view separately.

Liberals tell us that today’s capitalism primarily serves the needs of the richest while our fastest growing socio-economic sector today is the working poor.

Schubart: Lawn Mowers

Sep 12, 2014

The recent run of cool weather reminds me that lawn mowing season is almost over.
 

We’re putting our future at risk. The current political stasis that ignores the needs of so many Americans and immigrants and refuses to fix broken systems is creating a new wave of troubled citizens who will only cost more to help in the future. If we think the safety net is expensive now…do nothing and see what awaits us in another decade.
 

Sixty years ago, our family drove to Burlington two or three times a year. This was before the interstate, car culture, and paved roads wove Vermont together into a rural community. Towns were socially and economically more self-reliant. They had to be. Few townsfolk ventured far afield. But in the intervening years the impacts of communication technology, transportation, and state and global businesses rather than local employers has eroded town boundaries, economies, and social cultures.
 

When I first heard the term “trigger warning,” I imagined Roy Rogers leaning down and whispering something to his horse but I’ve come to understand that the concept is something new that’s emerging in schools and campuses around the country - generally arising from the student body, but also endorsed by some faculty.

Schubart: VT-PBS

Jun 3, 2014

Don’t look back... except to learn from past mistakes and make change - and welcome new opportunities.

In the ‘80s, when cable and satellite opened unlimited channels to the private sector, the likes of A&E, History Channel, Discovery, and National Geographic went after the PBS franchise and made steep profits on PBS’ original mission. I know. They were all my company’s clients.

Congressman Paul Ryan and his conservative colleagues want to reduce government spending on “entitlement” programs and curb the cost and impact of government in general. But I believe that with courage and vision, we could achieve this goal without further impoverishing the nation if people like Mr. Ryan, who professes concern for growing poverty if not the poor, understand the fundamental connection between the desperation of poverty, hunger, joblessness, and crime.
 

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