Layne: Support candidates with compassion

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To the Editor:Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a conference on poverty in Vermont. The conference was open to the public. Presented by a host of stakeholders including a number of state legislators, it was convened in Rutland Middle School.The protocol, after introductions, was for attendees to informally meet in groups to brainstorm issues confronting Vermonters who are marginalized economically. A myriad of conditions were identified, from minimum wage concerns, affordable childcare and lack thereof, poor public transportation, the necessity of single mothers having to sustain two full jobs, food insecurity, heat insecurity — essentially, a litany of daily challenges that had this middle-class participant reflecting on his fortunate status. It was a catharsis.One moment it brought to mind a major story I read a couple of months ago in the Valley News regarding serious cutbacks by the federal government which will impact the food stamp program here in Vermont and its effect on children. I thought about the proliferation of "dollar stores" throughout our country and resistance to their presence in upwardly mobile and well to do communities. In fact, I know an individual who does her food shopping at these stores, nutritional wastelands, because of her fiscal constraints.I had time on my drive back to Danby to reflect on my experience from this gathering.There was, indeed, an "elephant" in the conference room none of us seemed to have identified. The "elephant" is the gargantuan disparity between the richest and poorest.Bernie Sanders and more recently, Elizabeth Warren, have been railing about this condition. Today, the richest 1 percent in our nation have more money than the bottom 90 percent.Astounding! And it is no secret that the largest tax breaks are going to the nation's wealthy and large corporations. Even Ronald Regan's "trickle down" economics is a thing of the past, if, indeed, it ever existed. You'll be hearing over the next few months from the maniacal inhabitant of the White House that whatever candidate the Democrats select to run for president, that that candidate is "socialist." How quickly we forget how our "socialist" government, with our tax dollars, bailed out savings and loan institutions and corporations like. And there are over 68,000 families in Vermont living below the poverty level in tremendous need?A few years ago, somewhere I saw a poster with a poignant caption I haven't forgotten: "When I give to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why my government can't do more to help the poor, they call me a communist."So, left with these thoughts as November elections loom, I entreat readers to be mindful of those in need. Please vote for a candidate with compassion.Russ Layne lives in Danby

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