Editorial : What can one say, either about ghastly 2008 or unknowable 2009?
Newspaper editors can't predict the future any better than chairmen of the Federal Reserve, Treasury Secretaries, Wall Street wiz kids, or Tarot card readers. We shouldn't try.
Plus, although the editorialist's powers of moral and political suasion may be regarded as considerable by some cherished readers, most of these believers have forgotten the frequency with which they have carefully studied the writer's calls to action and, with a cheery sort of heedlessness, done other than was proposed. Or, taken no action at all. And, maybe we were all better off as a result.
The editorialist's ability to see trends in community behavior, to know the public mind, to unmask the scoundrelly public officials or exalt the diligent ones, may be regarded as uncanny, but it is all just luck and skepticism, plus the happy fact that sitting to one side closely observing the activities of one's neighbors is the newspaper's job.
But, while the smart political and economic overseers of our pedestrian lives have limited terms in office, with regulators and prosecutors constantly nipping at their departing heels, editorialists have constitutionally unlimited resilience. Helplessly and unappreciated, they will form and deliver opinions long after the merry, heedless forces of evolution have deleted the newspaper reading gene from humankind.
So that even today, as 2008, thankfully, ends and innocent, promise-less 2009 debuts, you are welcome to these few choice and oft-repeated views on topics of general and vital concern:
First, healthcare. Bless the new hospital and the generous Vineyard friends and neighbors who underwrote its vast cost. Still, when the latter day Depression ends, and we are housing the homeless in its measureless corridors and planting community gardens over the trackless wastes of its parking lots, what will continue to be missing, and by its absence put Island healthcare in doubt, is a community plan for the health services it needs, wants, and can afford. We mean a plan that is financially sound and one that is conceived in honest bargaining among providers, insurers, and the community, taking each and all into account. Will this new hospital, which styles itself a "community hospital," be the hub of a community healthcare system that this Island needs?
Next, the Steamship Authority. Martha's Vineyard's principal transportation link to the mainland will enter 2009 with all its familiar problems unresolved. High costs, especially for labor, declining traffic volumes, plus changing travel patterns in the market and increasing demands by Islanders who have become wealthier and more itinerant: the list is long and unforgiving. Badly in need of a complete, independent, and ruthless review of its tactical and strategic posture, its fleet, its ports, its schedules, its governance, and its finance, the Steamship Authority remains determined to miss the point. Indeed, all of these points. Instead, the boatline recently congratulated itself on its accomplishments, including such achievements as the implementation of a recycling program at the terminals and on the vessels; establishment of a "Steamship Authority Transportation Access Pass" in order to provide discounted rates for individuals with disabilities; and implementation of a new SSA Gift Card program. In addition, the line continues to expand its overbearing presence in Vineyard Haven with attempts to shove the four-decades-old schooner Shenandoah out of the way and, we report today, an effort to cripple and control Tisbury Towing's activities and its transfer bridge, both in their own ways as critical to this Island community as the Steamship Authority itself.
Housing. The real estate industry is in a state of near collapse, which means an opportunity is at hand to increase the availability of affordable housing. A program to use the funding available, not to develop housing but to buy houses now for sale at deflated prices may make more shelter available to moderate income residents than any other effort. And this effort must go hand in hand with efforts to modify zoning rules which increase housing prices by insisting on huge lot sizes. Allow small lots near town centers, require mammoth lots outside the centers. And, be aware that for housing to be affordable, its occupants must have good jobs with the promise of improving incomes. That means a flourishing economy, which in turn means the encouragement of business growth. Without economic growth, dreams of housing for all are no more than dreams.
Oh, and government. We waste so much time and so many resources. The school system needs streamlining, and its regional districts must be constructed so as to place control over the deployment of buildings, programs, and personnel at the discretion of the superintendent and his professional colleagues. County government has survived the charter study commission, but to what end? We stand ready to administer last rights, which will surely be needed soon. The Martha's Vineyard Commission needs to consider Martha's Vineyard's future in more comprehensive terms, paying particular attention to the economy as an engine of housing, jobs, wages, conservation, education, and general community good health. The schools and the towns and all of us need working, computerized information system links. And we need results-oriented leadership to get this work done.
Forgive us, but it's a familiar list. We've never gotten everything done that we meant to get to. Maybe we should simply acknowledge that it has been a wicked year. We should admit that we are scarred and uncertain, but hopeful.
And we know there is always smiling promise and opportunity - especially in your neighborly, encouraging, indulgent, and enthusiastic company.
Happy New Year to all.