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Sunday Forum: The Subtext of the First Amendment; Bring Vermont Inmates Home; Universal Health Care Can’t Wait

Sunday, January 18, 2015
The Subtext of the First Amendment

To the Editor:

As a fellow Harvard grad (though not a former Lampoon editor!), I’d like to reply to the letter from David Binger (“ ‘Charlie’ Isn’t Funny or Helpful,” Jan. 14) about Charlie Hebdo. He takes issue with the title, the quality of the cartoons and the editorial tone, and asks how a country that loved Honoré Daumier could support such trash.

First, I would posit that our own beloved land is the world leader in the degradation of taste. We’re the country, after all, that not only produced Larry Flint and Hustler but supported his right, in the Supreme Court, to publish a highly offensive cartoon that depicted not the Prophet Muhammad, May Peace Be Upon Him, but a known, specific individual. Virtually all American newsstands hawk tabloids full of salacious trash, partially fabricated stories and outright lies. All of this is protected by our glorious (and widely misunderstood) First Amendment, the first item in the Bill of Rights.

More to the point: Certainly there is a world of difference between Charlie Hebdo, on the one hand, and The Harvard Lampoon and The New Yorker on the other. I grew up with and appreciated both publications, but they clearly appeal to different audiences and readerships. There is a place for the high and the low, and times have changed since Daumier’s day. A certain amount of shock value is needed to gain the attention of readers in this high speed, Internet-crazed world. The tragedy in Paris, albeit horrific and a shock in its own right, at least elevated Charlie Hebdo, for a time, into the ranks of newspapers known around the world. Thankfully, we Americans are free to choose what we think and read, and I would suggest that an unwritten subtext of The First Amendment is that any one of us has the right, if he or she chooses, not to hold any religion, not to petition the government, not to peaceably assemble, and not to read anything offensive.

A. E. Norton


Bring Vermont Inmates Home

To the Editor:

Thank you for the article by Laura Krantz of VtDigger covering the modest reduction in out-of-state placements in the Vermont Corrections system (“Vt. Out-of-State Prison Population to Dip,” Jan. 14).

I have become involved with Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, a group dedicated to ending the practice of sending inmates to for-profit prisons outside of Vermont. A recent count shows that there are more than 200 prisoners in Vermont who have finished their sentences or are eligible for parole but are being held, at an average cost of $57,000 per year, because of a lack of “approved housing.” At a time when towns all over the state are considering budget cuts, why are we sending $57,000 per year per person to a for-profit company (Corrections Corporation of America) to house these individuals when we could find 200 open spaces tomorrow?

This simple change would cut Vermont’s out-of-state prison population by 50 percent, and, each year, we would save the $22 million per year it costs to imprison these people longer than necessary. Even if we used some of this money to improve or expand housing stock, at least the money and jobs would stay here in Vermont, not help pay for the CCA executive jet fleet and $3.2 million annual CEO compensation.

Tom Cecere


Time Is Now for Universal Health Care

To the Editor:

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has consistently dragged his feet on health care reform. The media called his near-defeat in November a referendum on his policies — particularly his signature policy, universal health care. But the referendum was on his foot-dragging. He consistently failed to present financing or other details for the universal health care system not because he didn’t have them yet, but because he never intended to have them.

Last month the governor showed his true colors. Peter Shumlin values profit over people. In Vermont, this means valuing the ability to do business as usual over people who struggle every day to cover the cost of medical bills and health insurance. This cannot stand.

The Vermont Workers’ Center organized a rally at the Statehouse recently and demonstrated the crisis that our communities face currently without access to medical care that we desperately need. After the demonstration, there have been many questions about the intent and efficacy of the day. Personally, in the last few days I have been comforted by the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail. I recognize that we demonstrated, as King wrote, “to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” The governor has consistently ignored the issue, and thus justice for many of Vermont’s families.

Last month, Shumlin said that “now is not the time.” In his letter, King writes that “This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see . . . that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’ ”

So I call on all our legislators, and the governor, to say that now is the time for universal health care.

Griffin Shumway


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