The View| From Vermont

     Feb. 1 – 28 below zero this morning. Cold.
     Feb. 2 – Still cold. 20 below.
     Feb. 3 – Really cold.
     Feb. 4 – Cold and gray.
     Feb. 5 – Cold today.
     Feb. 6 – Really cold.
     Ha ha! A little Vermont humor for you. I thought it up when I heard on National Public Radio that – brace yourself – it rained in California.
     Yes, it rained in California, and that made national news.
     Is NPR out of its National Public Mind?
     If that’s news, then here’s another story for NPR: “Bob didn’t feel too well today. He thought he might stay in bed past 4 a.m., and then mope around the house.”
     Sorry, Californians. Get over it.
     Last week the temperature hit 30 here for the first time this year. Twenty-eight below zero is cold, all right, but that’s not the worst of it. The worst is the high of 6. Or a high of 9 with 30 mph wind and daylong overcast. One day just before the brief thaw the wind stopped and I went out to the back porch to let the dogs in, and the sun was shining. I stood there in a cotton shirt and spread my arms like a sunbird and basked for a few minutes. The temperature was 19 degrees.
     I spent 25 years on the Southwest border before I moved to Vermont, so this is no fun. I don’t complain about it out loud, though, because you don’t do that here. It’s not like the rest of the United States – especially California – where whining is the national pastime.
     California has a $41 billion budget deficit. Wah, wah, wah. California doesn’t know what to do, because taxes are so unfair and if California has to pay its bills then the Republicans will hold their breaths until they wet their pants.
     I have an idea. Why don’t the Republicans go ahead and do it, and why doesn’t California shut up?
     California’s prison budget is more than $10 billion a year. In three years the state will be spending more on its prisons than on its colleges and universities.
     California spends $330 million a year just to pay interest on the bonds it issued to build prisons – that’s one-third of the annual budget of Vermont.
     California has more than 23,000 prison guards, whose brutal and corrupt union has secured them starting salaries worth more than $50,000 a year – more than schoolteachers make.
     Federal judges have ordered California to reduce its prison population by 55,000 to relieve unconstitutional conditions – not that we enforce that pesky old Constitution anymore anyway. About 20 percent of California’s 170,000 inmates are in for drug crimes, but I have yet to see anyone suggest that California begin by paroling nonviolent drug offenders. That’s an easy way to save a couple billion dollars.
     I have no sympathy for California.
     More than half of my town’s annual budget is spent on sand, salt and road crews. Property taxes on our little houses are more than three times higher than the taxes in California. And you know what we do about it? We pay our goddam taxes and we shut up, that’s what we do. Because if we don’t pay our taxes the sand and salt will run out, and we will skid off the road and crash and die.
     California is skidding off the road and crashing and dying, and what are 33 million Californians doing about it? They are crossing their puny legs over their miserable wallets and crying. Wah, wah, wah.
     I lived in California for 15 years and edited newspapers there. I know how Californians think. Californians were raised in a hot tub, and when the temperature dips below 80 they think there’s something wrong with the universe.
     There ain’t nothing wrong with the universe.
     Last weekend there was ski jumping at the town down the road, Brattleboro. People came from as far away as Austria and Slovenia to compete on the newly refurbished 90-meter jump – the same size they use in the Olympics.
     Hundreds of people stood around in mud and ice on a windy day to watch people zoom down an impossibly steep hill and sail through the air for 4 seconds, flying farther than the length of a football field.
     We could do this because in 1922 a man named Fred Harris wanted a ski jump, so he built one. When the rickety old jump became unsafe a few years ago, they closed it down. Then Brattleboro – a town of 10,000 – raised $550,000 to fix it. That’s an average of $55 apiece from every man, woman and baby in town.
     They wanted something, so they paid the money and they did the work.
     Imagine such a thing.

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