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Here’s the thing about Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. The turnout today is not an demonstration of traditional values. It’s an endorsement of bigotry. The fact is, if in 2012 your traditional values cannot accept same-sex marriage or homosexuality in general, then the traditions you value need an update. And today was not an expression of religious freedom. Because, again, if your religion cannot accept homosexuals, then your religion is flawed.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this whole Chick-fil-A foofaraw and replace the word “gay” with “black” or “Jew.” If Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy had spoke out against miscegenation — if he had said that interracial marriage was inviting “God’s judgment on our nation” — would there still have been a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day? I doubt it.

So what’s the difference? Why is it acceptable for homosexuals to be the target of bigotry in this instance? Because of an obscure passage in an old book? Sorry, that’s not good enough.

Freedom of religion? Bullshit. This is bigotry, plain and simple. Check out this story about people turning out to support Chick-fil-A in recent days, saying things like “I’m so glad you don’t support the queers, I can eat in peace.”

Yea, glad are those who hate the queers, for they shall know peace.

And shame on opportunistic, attention-starved conservatives like Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, and Sarah Palin — who value divisiveness over discourse — for exploiting the unfounded anxieties of our country’s small-minded, over-Bibled bigots that, sadly, still believe this garbage.

And that’s what is so troubling. Not only do so many people in this country still harbor these awful prejudices, but when given the opportunity they will celebrate them proudly. Bully for our freedom of speech, which allows you to so proudly proclaim your bigotry. No one can take that away from you, or any of us.

At the end of the day, Chick-fil-A still has a right to do business. Dan Cathy has a right to be a conservative homophobe. And people have a right to support them both. But don’t hide behind your Bible and don’t pretend this is some  great moral cause. It’s not. Because, honestly, you should be ashamed. You should feel small and petty. You should be embarrassed to hold such vileness in your heart. Just eat your goddamn chicken sandwich and shut the hell up.

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Originally published in the Rutland Herald on July 18, 2012.

Rutland County GOP Chairman Rob Towle’s offensive Facebook post has become a national news story and sadly has brought the ugly, racially charged rhetoric currently at play in parts of the Republican Party home to Vermont.

While the post was eventually removed after commenters from all sides decried it as racist and offensive, Towle’s half-hearted non-apology only drew more criticism. By Tuesday, Towle found some better words and apologized in earnest for his “bad judgment,” calling the post “stupid and insensitive.”

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Originally published in the Rutland Herald on July 5, 2012.

In their haste to report on last week’s Supreme Court ruling of the Affordable Care Act, CNN and Fox News Channel got one key part of the story wrong: all of it. This most recent failure underscores exactly what is wrong with the 24-hour cable news channels: Simply saying something — anything — is now enough. On Thursday, CNN and Fox performed the journalistic equivalent of a commenter writing “FIRST!” on an Internet message board.

This ratings-driven motivation comes at the expense of both organizations’ credibility and devalues the importance of factual journalism. Viewers would have been better served if the reporter had simply read the document or just held it up to the camera and slowly flipped the pages.

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Rutland City Police investigate a shooting on Cleveland Avenue shortly before 4 p.m. Friday. (Vyto Starinskas/Rutland Herald photo)

[UPDATED (5/1/12): The shooting on Friday, 4/27/12, was accidental and not a drive-by]

(Published in the May 2, 2012, edition of the Rutland Herald) Before we respond to last week’s shooting near Cleveland Avenue with hopeless despair over Rutland’s further decline into darkness, let’s count to five and put things into perspective.

Early reports labeled the incident as a drive-by shooting. Further investigation revealed that it was, in fact, accidental. While this development changes how the shooting is classified, the public’s initial response was no less real.

As word of the shooting went viral on social media Friday afternoon, the tone was dire. Across the Rutland, people clucked their tongues and shook their heads lamenting the loss of town they once knew.

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Photo by Cassandra Hotaling Hahn / Rutland Herald

Originally published in the April 19, 2012, edition of the Rutland Herald.

Last week, Rutland was witness to something unique: A Chamber of Commerce mixer that people were actually talking about. Wales Street became a spectacle as scores of people crowded inside the large tent to mix, mingle and enjoy the complimentary food and drinks.

Donald Billings, chef-owner of Roots the Restaurant — which co-hosted the mixer with Earth Waste Systems — threw down with a menu dominated by locally sourced food. The centerpiece, a pig roast, helped build anticipation as it cooked slowly in Roots’ driveway — its smoky scents wafting through all of downtown a full day ahead of the event.

The buzz around the mixer was unprecedented for these typically humdrum Chamber gatherings. Clearly, the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce knew it had something special, as it was especially effusive in its promotion of the mixer via email, print ads and social media.

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Vyto Starinskas / Rutland Herald photo

In a city so notorious for its potholes, you’d think the road to the Board of Aldermen would be a little bumpier. Yet, again this year, the contest, while robust in number, was lacking in excitement.

Now, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That, for the most part, our local politics have been able to hold negativity at bay is something we should be proud of. Certainly, outside the rail, rancor and vitriol rear their heads on occasion — all towns have their naysayers — but the board, at least through the last several terms has managed to work together with respect if not always accord.

But come on; it’s campaign season. Where’s the fire? Where’s the feistiness?

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A version of this story appears in the Feb. 16, 2012, edition of the Rutland County Express.

“For a state with so many hills, Vermont is pretty flat.”

This sentiment was expressed by a colleague of mine recently after a visit to the Vermont State House in Montpelier. And while this realization is nothing new, a day spent wandering the halls of our state government really drives it home.

At a time when the average citizen feels increasingly powerless — at the mercy of governments, corporations, banks, churches and other institutions that seem more concerned with self-preservation than with the public good — it is refreshing (and comforting) to know that Vermont’s government is still accessible, democratic and equitable.

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