Monthly Archives: March 2007

Welch and the troops

Fresh off of the Walter Reed hearings earlier this month, Vermont’s freshman Congressman found success in two of his troop-related policy initiatives this week.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office – the nonpartisan wing of the federal government that oversees spending – agreed to conduct an investigation into the Bush administration’s planning of care for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afganistan.

That investigation was first suggested by Rep. Peter Welch, who bolted to the forefront of the issue as a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the body that has found itself steering several investigation’s into the Bush administration.

"I strongly believe the cost of the war must include care for the warriors," Welch said in a press statement on the news, repeating his oft-used mantra on the issue.

It’s a phrase that he repeats in his March 1 letter to David Walker, the comptroller general of the GAO. In that letter, Welch suggests that the poor physical conditions at Building 18 at Walter Reed are a "clear indicator of a systemic failure in the delivery of quality outpatient health care and services to those who have bravely served our country."

That same day, Welch also successfully passed his first amendment to a bill. This provision – which was attached to the "Wounded Warrior Assistance Act of 2007" – requires that the secretary of defense  conduct health care outreach to returning soldiers and their families and "ensures that the medical case manager and service member advocate have the resources they need," according to the congressman’s office.

Welch also introduced the "Veteran’s Care Advocate Act" on Wednesday, a bill that would create an ombudsman position to help soldiers and their families overcome the bureaucracy of the army medical system.

"If the system breaks down, the ombudsman will go to bat on their behalf and cut through the bureaucracy," Welch said.

-Dan Barlow

Laptop thief, are you to blame for Vermont’s health care problems?

Sen. Ed Flanagan’s laptop has been reported stolen, according to Montpelier Police.

The Chittenden County senator reported to police that his Dell laptop was stolen from the Capitol Plaza Hotel, where he stays during the legislative session. The computer, which is usually locked up by hotel staff when Flanagan leaves town, apparently went missing two weeks ago.

He told police that the computer was several years old and pegged its value at about $600.

No word on the contents of the computer, but we can speculate that it contains enlightening notes from the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, which Flanagan co-chairs.

-Dan Barlow

Senate OK’s minimum tip wage boost

As expected, the Vermont Senate voted in favor this afternoon of increasing the minimum tip wage in Vermont, which is the base pay that workers such as waitresses and bartenders and other service industry proffessionals are paid by their employers.

The proposal was approved with an ammendment, however. The compromise, suggested by members of the Senate Economic Development Committee, struck down a provision that would have given tip earners an immediate 14 cent increase per hour.

That amounts to about $5 more per week for a full-time tip worker.

The ammendement did retain the original language of the bill calling for an implementation date of 2008. The committee’s ammendment on Tuesday, which was voted down by the Senate, also sought a 2009 start date to the changes to the minimum tip wage, which includes tying future increase to the cost-of-living allowance estimates.

-Dan Barlow

Shumlin endorses impeachment resolution

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, said Tuesday that if the resolution calling for President Bush’s impeachment was in his chambers that it would move faster than the current bill languishing in the House.

Shumlin said he has long been a supporter of beginning impeachment proceedings against Bush, whom he said misled the United States into war.

 

“It’s no secret,” he said. “I’ve always been in favor of this.”

 

He added that if the measure did pass the Vermont House, where it has been tied up since its introduction with a committee that apparently does not support the legislation, it would immediately be brought up in the Senate for hearings.

 

Earlier this month, about 39 Vermont communities voted to impeach Bush and Vice President Cheney during town meeting. Nearly as many towns also called for an end to the Iraq war.

 

House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, has said she shares the concerns that many Vermonters have about the Bush administration, but believes the legislature has little time to take up national issues.

-Dan Barlow

The high cost of cell phones

Rep. Steve Maier’s House Health Care Committee has found a unique way to curb obnoxious cell phone calls interrupting proceedings.

A small fishbowl in the center of the third-floor committee room’s table notes a $1 penalty for cell phone rings while the group is in session. When the committee – which has spent much of the session working on a major new health care bill – convened this afternoon, there were four one dollar bills in the jar.

Until the cell phone on an embarrassed woman’s belt rang shortly before 2 p.m. But she knew exactly what to do.

"How much do I owe?" she asked. "I only have a five."

That five now sits in the jar and the four one dollar bills in her pocket.

Some committee members joked that they could soon throw a party with the money building up in the jar. But Rep. Virgina Milkey quickly brought the discussion back to reality by pointing out that the beer that $5 purchases would be of rather poor quality.

-Dan Barlow

Cindy Sheehan testimony now online

Did the big snowstorm earlier this month cancel your trip to Montpelier to hear anti-war mom Cindy Sheehan testify before a Senate Committee?

If so, the fine folks at Vermont Public Radio have put the entire proceeding, including the counter testimony from supporters of the Iraq War, online right here.

Enjoy.

-Dan Barlow

Town Meeting review

Can I just say Town Meeting papers are my favorites?

It’s not like a federal election night, where many, many results are incomplete because we haven’t heard from East Wallingford, say, or Middletown Springs. There are always towns that are late getting in their results for one reason or another. But during Town Meeting, every time the phone rings or the fax goes off, it’s another 5 or 10 inches of copy.

And unlike national elections, most of the information we gather for Town Meeting isn’t available elsewhere. Last week in Rutland, we were a dead heat with PEG-TV to announce the mayor, slightly ahead on the treasurer’s race and way ahead on the aldermen. Then we put another 107 or so updates on the Web, including voting charts by ward for Rutland City and all those town-by-town results. We had almost 11,000 visits to www.rutlandherald.com on Town Meeting Day, and over 60,000 page views. During the evening, when traffic usually slows to a trickle, we were getting 2,500 hits an hour, so the community was turning to us for news about their world. It’s great fun and very satisfying work.

Randal Smathers

Politicians get nervous when you mention the “I” word

This is the last post about Vermont’s impeachment movement, I promise. This week.

During the hangover-like, post-town meeting Wednesday this week, I began looking for possible angles for an impeachment vote follow-up. I finally settled on seeing if the wealth of communities supporting the measure would shake out the cobwebs on the impeachment bill, which has been sitting on a committee shelf since its introduction.

And then I read the fine print on the bottom of the resolution: The measure was directly a message to several top national Democrats who control the impeachment leavers in the U.S. House, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

So, I called her Washington, D.C. office and left a message. A few hours later, a nice guy named Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesman, called me back. I explained the situation here in Vermont to him and he quickly jumped in with a response.

"The Speaker has said that impeachment is off the table," Hammill said.

"Hmm," I responded. "Why?"

Silence. And then an, "Uh …," followed by more silence, more stammering and a lack of anything that sounds like a complete sentence or even a phrase.

"Why are you asking?" Hammill inquired.

"Well, clearly there are people in Vermont that want to know why …," I started to say, before Hammill cut me off and the Democratic talking points – oversight is needed of the president’s administration, but not impeachment – began rolling out of his mouth.

I didn’t follow-up, partly because I was exhausted from a long town meeting day and partly because I was a bit shocked at the poor, sputtering start to his answer.

I mean, had no one ever asked that question before?

A simple why? One of those famous "W" questions that every journalist working today had drilled into his or her head in college.

The issue reared its uncomfortable head again Thursday at Gov. James Douglas’ weekly press conference. One member of the press there raised the pointed question,If the governor is so in touch with Vermonters like he says he is, then why hasn’t he talked about impeachment?

Douglas quickly changed gears, responding that even Vermont’s liberal delegation to Washington isn’t interested in impeachment. What could I do about it, he said.

That member of the press responded that the governor could use his powerful position in the state as a Republican governor to push the issue forward, if that is what Vermonters truly want.

"I really don’t think Vermonters want me to spend my time on this," Douglas responded.

Thankfully, someone quickly changed the subject to a more comfortable issue like education or property taxes or medical marijuana.

-Dan Barlow

Dan DeWalt: Revolutionary, Selectman, Woodworker, Musician … Blogger?

Dan DeWalt, the soft-spoken Newfane Selectman and local musician who kicked off the state’s grassroots impeachment movement, has a new title to add to his resume: Blogger for a national political Web site.

The Huffington Post invited DeWalt to begin blogging about Vermont’s controversial movement to remove Bush from office. His first posting – recapping the events of earlier this week – is right here.

In addition to DeWalt’s take on the movement ("The packed crowds who greeted us made it clear that they are sick of waiting and are ready to act," he writes of his statewide pre-town meeting tour with anti-war mom Cindy Sheehan), readers can also enjoy the thoughtful comments from Huff Post readers, like this one from someone named angryoldman: "The case for the IMPEACHMENT of BIZZARO BUSH and DARTH CHENEY is the only true SLAM DUNK to emerge from this administration!"

-Dan Barlow

Vermont towns calling for Bush’s impeachment continues to grow

Now that the dust has settled from town meeting season, the number of communities that believe President Bush and Vice President Cheney should be removed from office continues to increase.

According to organizers of the petition drive, 37 towns voted this week for impeachment and 21 towns passed resolutions calling for an end to the Iraq War.

New towns voting for impeachment include St. Johnsbury, Tunbridge, Burke, Hartland, Marlboro, Wilmington and Montgomery.

Organizers expect to continue hearing from more towns that tackled the issue under the "other business" portion of the town meetings.

-Dan Barlow

Impeachment towns now at 29

Across the state, at least 29 towns voted to support the impeachment resolutions Monday and Tuesday at town meetings, according to unofficial tabulations by the Vermont Press Bureau and petition organizers.

The towns of Warren, Greensboro, Craftsbury, Townshend, Putney, Morristown and Stannard have been added to the list.

-Dan Barlow

Douglas tries to stop impeachment talk in Middlebury

   Gov. James Douglas, acting as Middlebury’s moderator, tried to stop a vote on a resolution calling for President Bush’s impeachment and withdrawal of troops from Iraq at the town’s annual meeting Monday night, according to several residents who attended.

   Douglas argued that the two resolutions, which were brought up under the “new business” portion of Middlebury’s town meeting, were not warned and therefore only a discussion, but not a vote, could occur, according to witnesses.

   But the governor, who has been the town’s moderator for two decades, later allowed the votes to go forward after it became clear that nearly everyone in the room supported the measures.

  “It became clear that no one was going home until they had the chance to discuss the resolutions and vote on them,” said David Rosenberg, a political science professor at Middlebury College who attended the meeting. “And being a good politician, he allowed the vote to happen.”

   Both resolutions later passed by wide margins in voice votes.

-Dan Barlow

Massive impeachment update

President Bush is getting very little love on the floor of Vermont town meetings today.

We can now confirm that 22 towns so far today have voted to impeach the president and vice president.

Springfield, Hartland, Dummerston, Calais, Grafton, Jericho, Woodbury, Roxbury, Planfield, Peru, Jamaica and Newbury are the new towns added to the apparently growing list of Vermont communities that wish Bush’s term would end 22 months early.

-Dan Barlow

Is no news good news?

While most Vermont government offices closed Tuesday for Town Meeting Day, the Secretary of State’s office in Montpelier stayed open to answer questions from local moderators and clerks.

The only problem: Few people were calling.

“This is the quietest we’ve ever, ever seen it,” Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz said at 4:30 p.m.

Which left her with one question: Is no news good news?

- Kevin O’Connor

Hardwick says, “Bring the troops home now”

Hardwick voted 59-51 today in favor of ending the Iraq War and bringing U.S. troops home now. But the resolution on impeaching Bush failed to come to a vote after the moderator declared the its wording was confusing, according to local resolution organizers.

The total still stands at 10 Vermont towns supporting the president’s impeachment and four towns now voting to end the war.

Meanwhile, the town of Dorset votes against ending the war. And the town of Lincoln voted 38-17 to ask Congress to reopen the investigation into the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.

-Dan Barlow