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Never mind the buildings

Don Rogers

Vail’s human scale rests not in buildings, but people.I reflected on this while hustling down Meadow Drive from the parking garage to the Sonnenalp for a Vail Valley Institute seminar a couple of weeks ago.Tourists, construction workers and hotel staff (the latter two groups all obviously foreign born) and into the seminar, graced by the likes of Gary Hart, Yale historian Paul Kennedy and retired Gen. William Odom, Ronald Reagan’s national security officer during most of his second term.I’ve got the greatest perch on Vail and on down the Vail Valley, no question. Best job in journalism, all in all. If only I had the wry humor of namesake Will Rogers, whose quip about not belonging to any organized party fits to this day. Yes, he was a Democrat. But then the Republicans have been a bit too organized for my liking of late. Lemmings over the cliff is the most vivid image. Great discipline, though.The Crossroads battle royale, Old Guard’s last great stand and all that (don’t believe it), bruising as it has been, makes me love this place all the more. Perhaps perversely. Lawsuits and all.But where else do folks who care battle so hard? Over so little? Well, that’s an outsider’s bemused view. I do wish some hadn’t gone so low or reached quite so far. But that’s part of the tapestry, too. Maybe after the election passes, we’ll paste images of Crossroads on the golf course driving range, in Potato Patch, and somewhere along the Minturn Mile. Meantime, in the bowels of the Sonnenalp, some 40-50 people grappled with truly big questions over three days of sessions. What are the consequences of America the empire, if we may be so bold to declare it? And how about that mass migration across our borders, much of it illegal?CEOs, attorneys, educators, pretty high-powered retirees, luminaries in their field and at least one former state supreme court justice took these topics up. Oh, yeah, there was this one smart-aleck newspaper editor who joined in, too.Two weeks later, I’m still reading the tome of essays that came with the seminar, along with a biography of Teddy Roosevelt during his presidency that by happenstance fits the topics today. Teddy lived America’s foray into classical empirehood, what with our invasion and consequential insurgency in the Philippines most notably. He also led the nation when immigration peaked even higher than today, although they didn’t distinguish “illegal” from “legal” then. The nativists hated them all just the same. Pretty relevant stuff, actually.The U.C. San Diego professor should have dispelled myths about the “illegals,” though gut feelings don’t flee in the face of facts so easily. Wayne Cornellius’ studies, in thumbnail, show the folly of a fence when nearly half the undocumented don’t come over the border but from overstaying their visas. His research also shows that 65 percent fully pay federal income taxes, although very few get any tax returns back. In other words, instead of them ripping us off, we’re collecting a lot of extra revenue from them. And, like it or not, today’s version of a historic bottom rung in labor keeps the U.S. economy from completely overheating. But evidence that professors perhaps don’t have the pull they should have, former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm did not back off an inch off his insistence that the mass crossing from south of the border will ruin America swiftly. And so it goes, just as the debate is playing out in the U.S. House and Senate.I found Odom, now a Hoover think tank senior fellow and Yale professor, the most interesting. Thanks to him, I have a war in Iraq to rethink. Basically, this supreme hawk finds our foray into Baghdad the very height of folly, and he thought so from day one. He was prescient, and his views about true national interests fascinated me. Despite oil – he noted that enemies continue to sell oil, no big deal – he said there are no vital U.S. interests in Iraq, they are not prepared for any but the worst sort of democracy, we managed to encourage more terrorism and provide a training ground for terrorists rather than stop it. And oh yeah,we’ve squandered a world’s goodwill for nothing. That was just two speakers. The Crossroad debate pales on one level by comparison. But then again, Crossroads is local, it’s symbolic and it is something that citizens here can control directly. Thank God for our style of democracy that flawed as it no doubt is, gives Vail’s citizens true control over their destiny.The building isn’t what matters so much as what it says about the people. My hope is that Vail turns solidly toward progress on Tuesday. But I’ll still love them either way. The human scale here – so rich.Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 748-2920, or by e-mail at editor@vaildaily.com. Read his blog at http://www.vaildaily.com/section/BLOGVail, Colorado


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