CONFLICT OF INTEREST

Politics and Culture Under Trump

Trump is Good for America

We were due for a stress test and this is it.

Our parents’ generation created the greatest wealth engine in world history after World War II. With a flood of immigrants providing cheap labor, we built a massive military, a Great Society with a social safety net, and locked in New Deal reforms that sustain us to this day. 

The bill for that wealth creation has come due in all sorts of ways – environmental damage, Me Too, racial discrimination and so much more. For today’s discussion, suffice it to say we got rich in America, especially if you were white and male. We did that through a lot of hard work, again mostly by immigrants from Europe and people of color descended from slavery. 

And then— in the 90s and 2000s— we got really, really rich. Wall Street went wild, the tech boom happened. Secretaries at Microsoft became millionaires. 

But there is a political downside to this wealth.

When you get really, really rich you think you did it by yourself. You lose touch with the reality of the work. Same with those around you. Your kids forget how the money happened because they didn’t experience the hardships. Guys like Steven Schwartzman really think they are captains of industry and that the president should listen to them.

The result is that the greatest economy ever has become a society of consumption and leisure. Manufacturing has left for cheaper markets. And the massive marketing machine that is American capitalism focuses on making its products easier to buy, life easier to live and products easier to consume. (Think Amazon, giant soda bottles and bags of Cheese-Its)

Poisonous processed food and sugar-based drinks are everywhere — in vending machines and the street corner, on billboards, TV, the web. 

News is now delivered via Twitter and your phone in easy, quick, dopamine-hit-bites that divide and anger instead of inform.

We now have a society that consumes marketed products and takes vacation, ignorant of the stakes on which the principles of democratic society hang so precariously.

Such wealth and laziness lead us to stop paying attention. We no longer read. We don’t know our state legislator and we don’t understand our political process. Capitalism doesn’t care about the political system. It cares about selling you more soda, more TVs, more football.

And then— as I have written before— we lose sight of the role of institutions in a healthy civic society. People under 40 care less and less about institutions with which I grew up – the Democratic National Committee, the FBI, the courts, Congress, the New York Times or whether NBC News protected Harvey Weinstein. They have witnessed the way these places have failed us. They see how these places ignored people and placed their own interests above those of the society. Facebook sells ads no matter how offensive. Political leaders debase themselves daily on TV.

Pretty soon, the citizenry stops caring. So they vote for Trump who promises to burn it all down because the system is run by a deep state. That kinda resonates with a lot of people, even liberals who don’t like the guy. They are done with the lecture about professionalism and courtesy and leadership. They want the truth. And Trump sounded like he “tells it like it is.”

They kind of knew it was a trick. And there is the test. Trump is testing us. Every day is another test to see whether the system will stop him, whether the institutions that saved us from Nixon will work today. He is betting he has weakened the system enough so he will get away with it all. And he will keep testing the system until is knocks him down.

But at some point the system needs to act, to stand up for the principles in the Federalist Papers. (Read Federalist 65) That’s the test – can a society that has become fat and lazy and uninformed remember how it was founded and stand up for itself? Or will it eat/drink the processed food Trump is selling?

We were due for this test. And in the end, it is good medicine.

New Territory (Part 3)

Notes from a conversation with a political strategist I respect. His scenario makes sense to me.
In the end, Trump goes down to impeachment. Here’s how it goes and why:

  1. Speaker Pelosi does NOT want to impeach Trump quickly. She wants him right there as long as possible so she can win 2020 elections because of his behavior.
  2. She will investigate for as long as possible, driving him crazy.
  3. She will then deliver an impeachment charge to the Senate, which would then hold a “trial,’’ as called for in the Constitution.
  4. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell WILL take up impeachment. But, why?
  5. Because McConnell cares about three things: his own re-election, his position as majority leader, and forever placing the Supreme Court and the levers of government in Republican hands for a generation.
  6. One thing McConnell DOES NOT care about is Trump. McConnell and Republicans care about Trump only to the extent they can be re-elected. They don’t respect him. They don’t like him.

Here is where it gets interesting:

  1. Pelosi delivers impeachment to the Senate. McConnell delivers on impeachment and convicts Trump (put aside the question of whether Trump actually leaves office – that is a big one).
  2. Mike Pence becomes president, but immediately sees he cannot win the Republican nomination because he is so damaged by his relationship with Trump.
  3. In steps Mitt Romney to win the nomination and run against the Democratic nominee.

 
It is against these steps that you can judge the behavior of Romney in the coming weeks. He will gradually increase his criticism of Trump as the president is further weakened.
Much of this can go off the rails and predictions as we know are hazy. But always remember that the Republican senators don’t like Trump. No one does. At the moment, they fear him. But once they don’t fear him, he is doomed.

New Territory (Part 2)

To understand Trump/Giuliani et al, you need to know the name of Grover Norquist. 
Norquist is the boss at Americans for Tax Reform and a major Republican lobbyist and voice for decades.  His most famous quote is:
“I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.’’
And with that, Ladies and Gentlemen, you have the animating spirit of the Republican Party for the last three decades and the straight-line from Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump and the current Republican Senate.
The modern Republican Party has taken that quote to an extreme that is now being tested across government. This effort to strangle institutions has been ongoing and aggressive. 
Give them credit. The Republicans have won this rhetorical battle. Most Americans now see government has vaguely incompetent, unable to do its job – bridge building, environmental protection, processing tax returns etc. 
This strangulation has reached its zenith under Trump, not because he believes in smaller government, but because he saw the opportunity for political gain and fame.
Now – with the Trump impeachment investigation, we are going to see whether or not that strangulation has so weakened our institutions that they cannot deal with this guy. 
We are going to see an historic confrontation between the executive and legislative branches of government. Trump is betting on the lessons learned from his mentor Roy Cohn (“Don’t ever give in”) and thinks he can bully and intimidate the Congress into backing down. 
We are going to see the Trump people stiff Congress at every turn. They will refuse to testify. They will refuse to cooperate. They will refuse to recognize the authority of Congress to perform their oversight duties. 
Trump is making this bet: that government institutions – intelligence, justice, Congress, among others – are now so weak that he can beat them, intimidate them into caving by using Fox News and his base.
This is very different than Richard Nixon. Remember, Nixon resigned in 1974 while facing an impeachment investigation. Nixon was a bad guy who ordered the CIA to shut down an FBI investigation of his administration. When that deed was disclosed on an Oval Office tape, the Republican leadership from Congress went to the Oval Office and told Nixon his support was gone. (That moment has not yet come for Trump.)
Unlike Trump, Nixon had shame, respect for government and some of his colleagues. We will never know what would have happened if Nixon had refused to resign and fought it out. But he resigned before that test.
Trump and his people have no shame. They have learned from the Internet, Fox News and its ilk that you can win if you stick it out and fight. Nixon gave in. 
Trump will fight to the end for the following reasons:

  1. He loves the spotlight. 
  2. He can not stomach giving up. 
  3. And he thinks he can win. 

He believes that government institutions are now so weakened that he can prevail.
Speaker Pelosi still believes in the integrity of government and the strength of the institutions.  
That’s the argument.
 

New Territory

A series of events this week nationally and here in Vermont reminded me that we are very much in new territory across the board – business, politics, sports, the entire culture. 
There is lots at work and I don’t pretend to understand it all. But as Steven Stills said: “Somethins Happenin Here.’’ A few examples:

  1. The WeWork IPO never made it to Wall Street. The CEO was fired after the board realized that investors were balking at his absurd behavior – private jets and worse. 
  2. The U.S. House starts an impeachment inquiry on Trump after a whistleblower blows the whistle. 
  3. Climate strike/environmental activists protest in front of a lobbying firm in Montpelier, VT demanding that the firm quit its fossil fuel clients. https://vtdigger.org/2019/09/25/climate-activists-target-lobbying-firm-mmr/
  4. NY Times reporter Michael Schmidt – on Twitter – defended the newspaper’s handing of the Trump/Ukraine/Whistleblower story.  This would never have been done 10 years ago. https://twitter.com/nytmike/status/1177585436128096266
  5. A guy walks up to Rudy Giuliani in an airport and says he’s doing a disservice to the country.

The world is upside down and I think there are two reasons for it. 
First – the Internet. It has made us faster and dumber. But it is here and the social media stew that is Twitter is now our key means of getting news. It is fast and instant. There are few if any rules. Nothing is sacred. 
You have heard it all before. We used to sit around the dinner table and watch Cronkite and Huntley-Brinkley. That’s gone. The Maddow people are over there and the Fox News people are over there. (I personally believe that’s a false equivalency and that Fox News has become an absurdity)
Second – Ronald Reagan/Newt Gingrich. It was these two guys that drove a stake into the heart of our institutions. “Government is the problem,’’ Reagan said. All these years later, the Republicans have won the argument. Few people under 40 – even liberals – believe that government can do anything well. And they have ZERO confidence in the political parties. Tell that to NASA in heyday.
A few of my children believe the Democratic National Committee is a useless anachronism that protects a system of cronyism that kept Bernie Sanders from the nomination in 2016. (They are right). And they believe that Congress and our political leadership has failed the country. (Right again)
But I believe – like my new idol Professor Scott Galloway @profgalloway – that “immunities’’ are kicking in.

  1. A 16-year-old girl from Sweden cuts through the right-wing junk media and shames we adults who have failed her generation. 
  2. The markets destroy the WeWork IPO in weeks, sending a message that the age of God-like tech CEO’s may be ending. As Galloway says, the board didn’t fire the WEWork CEO, he was fired by the media, academics and math. His company’s value was a joke and the markets figured it out. Get ready for your Uber rates to go up.
  3. Speaker Pelosi launches an impeachment investigation in large part because it is the right thing to do. She may not know the political consequences. None of us do. But she says clearly that she is doing her job. (She is right)
  4. Facebook, Google and Amazon will either be broken up by the government or break themselves up. My free-market Republican friends should rejoice. The breakups will unlock billions in new value and create hundreds of new start-ups. It’s called competition. 

If we are lucky, we may just be entering a phase in history where we figure out how to use the Internet for good, that government will respond to angry voters by doing its job better and a new majority of people heeds the words of the Swedish girl. Go Greta. 

Kids, Climate and Protest

My local newspaper published a rant this weekend by a local conservative think tank guy criticizing – well, everything. It had all that Fox Newsy, right-wing snark about sneaky lobbyists, special interests, left-wing educators and kids who ought to be in school lest they be corrupted. It felt like a call to return to Don Draper’s Mad Men.

Let’s remember that the Climate Action day on Friday was about a mortal threat to humanity and the planet that sustains life. The writer, Rob Roper, doesn’t mention it. But buried deep in his tirade is the belief that a warming of the Earth’s climate due to an extraction economy that burns fossil fuels to create our wealth is a left-wing conspiracy by elites, liberals, teachers and soft education administrators. 

The point that he DOES make is this: Kids should stay in school. They should not skip out, disrupt traffic and make it harder for people to go about their daily lives. He says this is not just dangerous. It is illegal.

And these kids are abetted by school administrators who are actually encouraging them to leave school and protest. He calls it the abandonment of the education mission in favor of political indoctrination. 

His solution? School choice. Let kids go to school where they want and create educational competition that will strip all this liberal propaganda from our schools. Betsy Devos to the rescue of society. 

Now I am no doctrinaire public school guy. My kids did every kind of school out there, including homeschool. (That’s a post for another day) But criticizing protest by kids as a way to sell school choice? I thought it was the job of school to encourage critical thinking. 

This reminds me of the white Alabama clergymen who said basically the same thing about Martin Luther King Jr. and his tactics of non-violent protest back in 1963. They called King an outsider and a law breaker. A judge threw him in a Birmingham jail for protesting.

King responded with his  “Letter from Birmingham Jail,’’ in which he explained and defended the use of non-violent protest, even when illegal. He said disobeying unjust laws was his duty, even patriotic. 
King’s letter is here. Take the time to read it. It is a nice template for how to live a good life.

Here it is!

So it is with the kids in our streets on Friday. They were not protesting unjust laws. They were protesting a social order and a political system that is not listening to them. They are beseeching adults to hear them – on gun violence, climate change and their future. 

We have not listened. Expressing our own frustration, we elected a sexual predator and unindicted law breaker as president who denies climate change and does nothing on gun violence while supporting tax cuts for powerful corporations that benefit from the extraction economy.

The kids are asking us why we did that, when they are the ones who will inherit the society we have created. 

My only regret is that the protest was limited to one day and that the kids will return to school. I wish they had taken the Month off to protest – against their parents, their school system, their political leadership and their community – all of which are failing them and dooming their future. I wish they would snarl traffic every morning and disrupt the Statehouse every day.

We are never going back to a world Rob Roper prefers – obedient students performing to the dictates of the very adults who have ignored their pleas. We need more protest and disruption, not less – before it’s too late. 

Police and Culture

The time has come to rethink how the police operate in Vermont. We have now experienced several deaths at the hands of well-meaning police officers. One took place in the front yard of Montpelier High School in full view of the public. 
By now it is a familiar routine. A mentally ill person is thought to be breaking the law. They are cornered in a field, a church, a high school yard, a shower stall in Burlington. A confrontation ensues. Fear escalates on both sides. The police fear for their safety. A mental health expert is not on the scene. The police have guns.
When the accused – usually in mental health distress and confused – refuses to give up, he makes a threatening move, borne fear for his own safety. 
The police – fully armed and ready – open fire multiple times with enough fire power to kill someone five times over. The police investigate themselves and the attorney general follows suit, generally finding the police response “justified.’’
I asked a former chief of police in VT about this issue. His reply? “Training. The way we train police officers is not working.’’
I would add culture and weapons.
Caveat – I spent two years covering the crime and police in Nashville, TN in the mid-1980s. I saw up close the stress that comes over the police every day. But almost worse, the police see the dark, seamy side of society – the drug dealers, homeless, murder victims, rape, break-ins. They see it every day. I saw it for two years. It is terribly depressing. Cops are like hospital emergency rooms. They deal every day with the flaws of a society and they rarely get thanked. It is a very tough job. 
Culture – Cops are generally politically conservative. They come from law enforcement and military backgrounds. And because they see the underside of society, they are prepared for the worst. One of the pieces of this culture is guns. 
On the other side of the culture divide are minority communities. We now know that people of color fear the police. They live life in constant fear for their safety at the hands of the police. Eric Garner, Donald Neely, Michael Brown. The list goes on. And police are in danger too, especially in dangerous places.
Guns – it is time – at least in some towns in Vermont with little crime – to consider whether police should carry guns. Police in my town of Montpelier carry guns and wear bullet proof vests on their way to get a sandwich. I suspect it is a policy for their safety. 
But the other side is that police – even in tiny Montpelier – look like armed soldiers. And that is increasingly threatening to the people who live here. 
So I ask – why should a police officer carry a gun in this town? The logical result is that the gun is used. And that never ends well. Why not store the gun in the trunk of the police cruiser with other weapons like tasers and shotguns? If the officer is called to a dangerous or unknown scene of an altercation, they can seek to deescalate the situation first. If they believe the situation is dangerous to their life, they can return to the vehicle and get their weapon. 
But to show up to a scene with guns drawn is an unnecessary tactic. Let’s explore changing this training and policy. 
Let’s even explore changing the very term, police officer. In communities all over this country, the police are now feared by people of color and other minorities. Let’s change the very name we give them. They are after all peace officers. 
They should be on foot, not in a cruiser, which threatens people. Why wear military-style uniforms? Dress the police in uniforms that do not threaten people. Their weapons are at hand only in case of a threatening situation. 
I realize this may not be a viable solution to unnecessary deaths in places like New York City. But it is certainly worth a discussion in places like Montpelier and Burlington, VT. 
Vermont’s new Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling is perfectly positioned to lead this discussion about training and culture. Here is hoping he does so.

Mueller Hearings

We have now arrived at a place where Congress can no longer perform its duty to oversee the behavior of the executive branch of our government.
Robert Mueller’s appearance before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees were a chance for Congress to explain to the American people the details of the Mueller report. 
Instead, the hearings were a junior varsity sideshow that did not illuminate. Additionally, the media, with a few notable exceptions, fails every day to explain the Mueller report, Russian interference in the election and the Trump role in trying to deep-six the Mueller probe. 
There are notable exceptions. The New York Times and Washington Post, as usual, provide fearless, in-depth coverage of the biggest scandal since Watergate. 
Back then – the early 1970s – Republicans and Democrats fought it out. But when the good of the country was at stake, they came together to fix things. Barry Goldwater, Howard Baker, and others all kept the good of the country front of mind. 
That is now all gone. Republicans banded together to the protect Trump, regardless of the facts. And they are getting away with it.
Why?
Because they can. And I am not at all sure Democrats would not do the same thing. But in this moment, Republicans are backed by a media and Internet landscape that knows no values, just profit. Fox News has become a propaganda arm of the Republican Party and white racism. The party has adopted a strategy of destruction of anyone who gets in their way. They will tolerate racism and violence and do whatever is necessary to defeat the opposition. 
It is time to ask whether journalism can be done via any model other than non-profit.
When the Senate conducted the Watergate hearings in the early 70s they hired special counsels to do the questioning because they knew they didn’t have the chops to go toe to toe with Nixon’s bad guys.  Same thing with the Iran-Contra hearings. Here’s to Sam Dash for those old enough to remember. 
Today’s Congress, driven by the media culture, refused to turn the questioning over to professionals. The result was a forum in which Republicans got away with questioning the integrity of a Purple Heart Vietnam veteran and career prosecutor.  And their media apologists abet that effort. 
With these hearings, the US has now sent a clear signal to the rest of the world that we will tolerate corruption in our elections and will only focus on a civil culture war at home while other countries eat our lunch. 
Whether or not we decide to become the country we can be or whether we give in to being a second-tier, vaguely corrupt autocracy will be decided in the next election. 

If I Were Governor (Part 3)

I saw former VT Governor Madeleine Kunin at an event recently. Sharp as ever and wearing a long, dignified career with justifiable pride as she discussed her latest creation.  
The former governor was pushing the success of Emerge Vermont, which recruits and trains women to run for elective office. 
Emerge Vermont is only the latest in a string of successes for Kunin – refugee, mother, House Appropriations Chair, Lt. Governor, Governor, professor, deputy education secretary, Ambassador to Switzerland, prolific author, advisor to many and so much more. 
One she rarely gets credit for is something called the Office of Policy Research and Coordination. The name sounds really boring but it’s important. 
The office was a crack team of smart policy folks that researched good policy ideas and proposed them to the legislature – a kind of mini-think tank within the governor’s office. 
Sadly, subsequent Governor Dick Snelling ditched that office, I suspect to shrink government and save money. Subsequent governors Dean, Douglas, Shumlin, and Scott never saw fit to re-establish the office. 
The policy office under Kunin was headed by Steve Kimbell, (my former business partner) a well-respected lawyer and for my money the most knowledgeable source on the state budget EVER. Kimbell’s deputy was Bernie Johnson, who held more institutional memory than anyone. 
Other notables in that office were Ken Jones, Rick Minard, Elizabeth Ready, Martha Judy, Art Woolf, and George Hamilton. These people are highly respected in various circles for their policy expertise and government service. 
Here’s the problem. When a governor or the legislature want to propose a new policy – say a tax on junk food (my favorite)  – what do they do? In the days of the policy office, the issue would be researched. Experts from around the country would be contacted, a white paper might be written. A foundation of information would be laid so that the governor could propose the idea and the legislature could examine it. 
Without the office, policy development is anecdotal. When former Governor Peter Shumlin stood up at his inaugural and declared opioids a threat to Vermont, he drew national attention. But a policy office could have helped him improve his proposal and help the legislature examine it more efficiently. 
Today, the governor and legislature rely on friends, lobbyists, personal staff and ad hoc information to develop critical policy for Vermont’s future. That’s not good enough. The legislature has an office of Legislative Council, which advises committees on policy. But it is stretched thin and needs more depth. 
As governor, I would bring back the Office of Policy Research and Coordination to jump-start a prosperity agenda fo the next generation.
You can read the two previous installments in the If I Were Governor series – Part 1 & Part 2.

Transportation Policy (Boring but Critical)

Taking a mini-break from the ongoing “If I Were Governor” series to post my response to a local writer/policy/ex-Reagan guy/ex-VT state senator criticizing Vermont state government’s move toward a cleaner transportation future. He doesn’t like bike paths or solar or spending on electric charging stations. But at bottom (and I should have said this), to say these things is to deny the existence of the climate crisis. So be it. Here’s my piece in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, my local paper.
If I Were Governor (Part 3) coming soon.
Here is the link so you can enjoy the TA’s work.
https://www.timesargus.com/opinion/commentary/mcclaughry-says-no-we-say-yes/article_b5838582-92d8-5867-b62c-3a55f8a6e9a6.html
 
Here is the text:

John McClaughry’s piece in last Sunday’s edition requires a response for its adherence to a status quo economy that got us in our mess in the first place.

First, let’s put aside John’s sarcastic labeling of boogey men and women as “enviros,’’ his belittling of electric transportation and bike/pedestrian projects and David Blittersdorf as a “solar mogul.’’ I get the strategy – belittle and demonize those you disagree with to diminish their work. It is positively Trumpian – but it is beneath Vermonters.

So let’s take the substance of John’s points. In summary, he says the transportation funding bill just passed by the legislature spends too much money on climate change, bike lanes, electric cars and passenger rail upgrades. He complains that the “basic function’’ of the state Agency of Transportation is to preserve and maintain a network of highways…’’

Wrong. The Agency of Transportation, like all state agencies and government itself, is to provide for the safety and welfare of Vermonters.

And this year the legislature decided to make the agency pay more attention and spend more money on priorities around climate change and quality of life. Vermont spends millions each years maintaining roads and bridges so prop up a highway system that is a critical part of our economy. We are spending about $52 million on road projects alone. I think that’s just fine.

But we are now faced with the asteroid of climate change headed straight for us. The impacts will be severe and life-changing. The maples and ash trees around John’s house in Kirby will be gone and life as he knows it will change forever.

So to ask the AOT, with all of its budgetary muscle, to spend some time and money on ways to live in a climate change world is not too much to ask and the legislature should be thanked, not vilified.

Yes – Vermont should reorient its government policies in the direction of the Paris climate agreement. While Vermont can do little to reduce overall carbon in the world, it can move us toward a resiliency that allows us to survive and prosper via the creation of new businesses.

Yes – Vermonters need to get out of their gas and diesel vehicles in favor of electric. Wait until John takes a spin in a new Ford electric truck. It makes diesel trucks look slow and weak. Oh – and I am getting that from the CEO of Daimler, hardly a member of VPIRG.

Yes – the legislature should figure how to use the tax system to move our behavior in better, clearer economic decisions that benefit all of us. We do that with tax policy all the time – as we do with smoking.

Yes – electric shuttles in Burlington and Montpelier. How bout one from the airport?

Yes – to 77 bike-pedestrian projects around the state. You know why young people are not moving here John? Because of a lack of quality of life and jobs. This generation wants amenities. They are unwilling to settle for the Mad Men generation lifestyle. They are smart and creative. They want electric cars, bike paths and quick access to work. That’s not squishy liberalism. That’s common sense.

Yes – to a commuter rail from Barre to Montpelier, linking those two cities, their people and their history. I don’t much care whether it is done by David Bittersdorf or Howard Dean. I care that it gets done because the people of those two communities will prosper because of it.

And lastly – YES to the Transportation Climate Initiative. Vermont may not be able to stop climate change. But by being a player in the debate, it can prepare its citizens for a cleaner, more prosperous future, as opposed to the dirty diesel dominated economy to which John McClaughry clings.

If I Were Governor (Part 2)

The Commission on the Future of Vermont
In Part 1 we discussed the need to transform Vermont into a modern, resilient state where its people can grow and prosper. We will keep refining that notion, adding issues and challenges to the list. 
Now let’s discuss how a governor would BEGIN. 
We need a strategy to grow Vermont’s prosperity in the next generation. 
The old ways no longer work. The technology that has disrupted our economy in the last 20 years is child’s play compared to what is coming: driverless cars, artificial intelligence, climate impact.
The old: Large conventional dairy farms, IBM/Global Foundries, bad Internet/cell service, shopping malls, incremental change in education models, gasoline engines.
What’s coming can either be good and beneficial for Vermonters – niche retail, trades education, consulting, land-based companies, technology firms, regenerative agriculture,  remote work, vibrant arts/humanities, philanthropy, new forms of connection and community, good health via exercise and real local food, electric transportation.
Or bad: out of control health costs, obesity, dependency, and living at the mercy of a global efficiency economy that doesn’t value human-scale living.
Here’s what I know. The future is small. Big is over. Smaller farms, niche technology businesses, turbo-charged education, and training – based on lifestyle and remote work – all powered by high-speed internet, a regional airport with small air taxis to other cities and a train that gets you to NYC in less than eight hours. 
Vermont is well-positioned to take advantage of its key attributes to build this future – clean air, clean water, creative schools, grass, soil, human capital and imagination, honest government, human-scale communities. 
As I said in Part 1, we need a new generation of Vermonters, some born in this century, who have the skills and the hunger to forge this new society.
HOW?
To that end – as a first step – I would appoint a blue-ribbon panel – The Commission on the Future of Vermont – to explore and debate the future of the state. The commission would write a strategic plan for the future, an economic development strategy for the next generation. 
The commission would have co-chairs, Vermonters with expertise from all sectors and professional staff.  This would not be another report to collect dust and be ignored. It would make hard choices and deliver a series of recommendations to the legislature for action. It would hold public hearings in each county. It would conclude with a two-day conference in Montpelier and Manchester where the commission releases its recommendations and then discusses their deliberations in public. 
The commission members would be volunteers and the staff would be paid. The commission would work for a year, meeting monthly and in committees more frequently. Experts would be brought in from around the country. This is serious work, not a political show. And the report would serve as a roadmap for the next governor to work with the legislature to implement the proposals. Legislators would sit on the commission so they would be ready to lead the discussion in the General Assembly. 
The meetings would be live-streamed and available to the public via the web and social media.
The goal is a plan designed by Vermonters for Vermonters, in community with each other.  We would gather wisdom, knowledge, and expertise from everywhere, from different generations and backgrounds.  My hope is that the report’s impact will last for years and that the commission would serve as a mini-think-tank for the legislature and the governor to pursue the policies we need to attract new Vermonters and grow the economy.
The central question? How do we turn Vermont into a place where people want to live and work, and in turn create a new, modern rural economy that benefits all.
Everything is on the table – except cell phones and political agendas. They are to be left outside the room.
I have a rough draft list of potential commission members that I would suggest, people whom I respect. But my list is limited by my relationships and prejudices. I invite you to submit your own in the comments section of the blog. Every Vermonter has a circle of friends who can contribute. I’ll post my list soon.
Keep reading this series with Part 3.

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