Commentary Series

Mon-Thurs 8:50 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. Sundays at 10:55 a.m.

More than 50 commentators provide perspective and opinion about current events, topics of interest, and often showcase the work of writers and storytellers. The VPR Commentary Series is produced by Betty Smith-Mastaler.

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Averyt: Birdsong

May 5, 2017

I love hearing the birds in spring. Their backyard serenade greets me in the morning, inviting me to share their symphony. Chirps, chatters, warbles and caws are all music to my ears. For me, the sight - and especially the sound - of returning birds are a festive rite of spring.

We’ve become a nation of divided cranks. Too many of my friends have made up their mind about everything, dug in their heels, and either turned their face to the wall, as they say in hospice, or steeled themselves to fighting for their entrenched opinions.

I know almost nothing about football, but I have noticed that when the going gets tough, a team huddles to figure out how to turn things around. And in today’s political arena, small huddles - neighborhood meetings - are popping up everywhere.

When President Trump suggested that Andrew Jackson might have prevented the Civil War, critics quickly noted that Jackson died sixteen years before the war; calling this yet another example of Mr. Trump’s loose interpretation of American history. What’s more interesting, though, is why the president is so taken with Jackson.

There’s an interesting debate happening here in Vermont and elsewhere on what the label “Organic” actually means. Hydroponic growers want to mark their produce organic if they don’t use pesticides or unwanted chemicals in their process. Traditional organic farmers have pushed back, claiming that only produce grown in soil deserves the highly valued organic label.

Last weekend, I traveled by bus to Washington D.C. with my 5-year-old daughter to attend the People’s Climate March. In crowds numbering more than 200,000, we marched with 350Vermont, holding a circular parachute banner that read “Vermont stands with climate justice, clean energy, water protectors, courage, workers, and bees.” When my daughter wasn’t running under the parachute, playing games or seeking shade, she was chanting into the megaphone about clean water, justice, and democracy. It was a powerful - and exhausting - weekend of collective action.

Levin: Way Too Soon

May 1, 2017

This year I made a bet with a friend about when we’d first hear spring peepers in our respective valleys.

I used to like Green-Up Day, when I gladly pitched in to pick up roadside trash in my neighborhood. It was like a community game of I Spy, scouring the leaf litter for brown bottles, the glint of an aluminum can, or hitting a jackpot of a six-pack jettisoned at chugged intervals. In the early years, we’d find parts of cars that looked as if they’d been assembled by Henry Ford himself.

The United States Constitution was back at work last week in California where a Federal Court issued yet another restraining order against the President of the United States. This time, the restraining order focused on the President’s recent executive action instructing the Attorney General to ensure that any community refusing to enforce the President’s immigration directives loses eligibility to receive federal grants.

Moats: Received Wisdom

Apr 28, 2017

My mother turned 100 years old recently, though we weren’t sure whether she was aware of it. She’s comfortable and well taken care of, but each new day is a kind of surprise. That she's still here allows us to consider the century she has lived through, which goes back to the day Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. That’s the day she was born.

Vermonters sometimes take for granted our state’s cachet as a hub of enlightened rural living.

Like most Americans, I take it for granted that I won’t be poisoned when I brush my teeth. When I walk the dog, I don’t worry about breathing polluted air. When I eat my lunch I feel confident that I’m not being poisoned by the packaging, or by pesticides on my apple. When I go to bed at night, I don’t worry about the next storm, like Irene, because I know our communities have the information they need to plan and respond effectively.

My town school teaches the basics well, but it doesn’t have a lot of extras. Plainfield Elementary School’s gym doubles as an auditorium. Thanks to money raised privately, we’ll finally get a new playground this summer to replace one that’s thirty years old and falling apart.

The Fleming Museum’s new Asian Art gallery invites the viewer to explore not one Far Eastern culture, but several. Wandering among ancient Chinese funerary sculptures, 18th century Japanese samurai armor, Thai and Burmese Buddhist statuary, Indian paintings and more, the incredible richness of Asian art is powerfully evident. And one realizes that Asian art is no more monolithic than western art.

Bill O’Reilly was pulled off his pedestal at Fox News by the Rupert Murdoch family, but only after so many women exercised their outrage against sexual harassment. The tall statue of “the iconic most powerful name in news” was given a shove by women whose spontaneous anger gave corporate America the jitters.

Bill O’Reilly’s ouster really is a big deal. Time was when the FCC had a regulation called The Fairness Doctrine - a rule that required broadcasters to present controversial issues in an evenhanded way. But in 1987, a time of deregulation, that doctrine was scrapped – leading to intense partisanship in broadcasting and notably the birth of Fox News.

Martin: All Are Welcome

Apr 24, 2017

When I was a kid, I learned in school that the United States was the best country in the world because we were a melting pot. No matter where you came from, no matter your color, creed, or bank account, you could come here, learn English, work hard, and become an American.

In the spring of 1969 I worked in the apple orchards at Scott Farm in Dummerston. And back then I’d never heard of climate change. Yet today, Zeke Goodband, the manager of Scott Farm is relying more on wild bees for pollination because they work in cooler temperatures and tolerate wind and wet weather. And Goodband says native bees seem more resilient and better able to deal with climate instability.

I learned about LaCrosse, Wisconsin, from a Planet Money episode called, The Town Where Everyone Talks About Death - a city of more than fifty thousand residents, where ninety-six per cent of them have an Advance Care Plan on file.

The use of online communication to advance social causes has created some clever new words, like clicktivsm – the signing of online petitions to feel part of social change.