Monthly Archives: December 2008

Last roundup for 2008

One of our most-read stories of the year was the piece about Brattleboro petitioning to try President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for war crimes. The story was linked to by the Drudge Report, and we had massive traffic from across the country. The petition made the ballot on Town Meeting Day and both Brattleboro and Marlboro voted in favor of the resolution. An update: activists in Brattleboro now want President-elect Barack Obama to pardon the pair after the planned war crimes trial, which presumably would take place in Brattleboro, if either man ever visited Vermont.
Remember 2007? The most popular story back then was about a woman who was charged with animal cruelty for frightening a police dog. It's odd what the Internet does with news.
One other unusual story that was in our top 100 for 2008, which was written in 2007: a man was acquitted after being charged with driving drunk – on a 1968 Cub Cadet lawnmower.

-Rob Mitchell

Wishes for Freyne

I may have missed this in the print edition over the holidays, but Seven Days has a great piece checking up on Peter Freyne, the much-missed political columnist at the weekly newspaper.

Peter stepped down from his job earlier this year after succesfully beating cancer. That tends to change a person's life – and Peter clearly was looking to open up a new chapter.

But it sounds like Peter's health problems are not over.

Here's one telling moment from the story:

We tried to imagine Freyne on an exotic trip, or having a wild love affair. But in fact he’d already been transported to Fletcher Allen — with a massive strep infection that had spread to his brain.

Peter is now recovering at a nursing center. We wish him the best of luck. I always loved seeing him at the Statehouse and he always made those press conferences much, much, much more interesting.

-Dan Barlow

Monday news round-up

Here's a few quick news hits that caught my eye over the weekend.

A war between liberal and conservative bloggers has started in Vermont, with Green Mountain Daily striking the first blow against the Vermont Tiger. No one wins in these battles, folks.

Former Vermonter Frank Miller's first solo film that he wrote and directed – his take on Will Eisner's classic The Spirit comic strip – crashes and burns at the box office. It was probably not a good idea to launch the movie on Christmas Day considering the family-friendly competition. I haven't seen the film yet (in fact, I only watched "300" for the first time last week), since it is not playing here in Montpelier.

The New York Times profiled several Vermont restaurants over the weekend, including Waterbury's Hen of the Wood. 

Seems to be a quiet week at the Vermont Statehouse, although things will get busy there real soon. The only meeting on the agenda that I see this week is the Commission on Higher Education Funding Tuesday morning.

Health care activists hoping for big reforms under an Obama administration are holding hearings across Vermont to gather ideas. There's a meeting tonight in Guilford and another one scheduled for Montpelier this Saturday. Full details in tomorrow's Times Argus and Rutland Herald.

-Dan Barlow  

Busy weekend

It was a busy weekend of reporting for the Press Bureau and our daily reporters. A Louis Porter story on state jobs filled by GOP campaign workers kicked up a fuss in the story comments. Apparently this kind of thing may have happened under Howard Dean as well. On the other side of transparency there is talk of a web-searchable database of pharmaceutical company payments to doctors in the state. The ACLU in Vermont has joined the party in the state's case coming before the U.S. Supreme Court – against the state, but in support of the state supreme court.
Bill Doyle will lead the Republicans in the State Senate; the judicial branch of state government will not be cut as deeply as originally thought.
One of our more popular stories heralded the arrival of iPhone service in Vermont – good luck getting reception in Pittsfield or Elmore! We also ran the best of Danziger 2008 in the Sunday paper, as the year is drawing to a close. Next week, the legislature opens!

Christmas Eve Roundup

Our editor at the Times Argus was looking around for some happy news to print, and here it is: Rutland set the record for most pints of blood donated in one day in New England: 849. That may not seem like a big deal, but it is, since the recent weather canceled or curtailed many regional blood drives. And, Rutland Mayor Chris Louras shaved his head in honor of the occasion.
If you're looking for some old news, last week's column by Jim Sabataso touched off a letter that spurred a bunch of comments about Rutland City and Rutland Town patching up relations and working together. Seems like there's still some bitterness there, but hopefully we can move on in '09.
In other statewide news, Louis Porter reports that the Yankee nuclear power plant could continue running past 2012 with some changes, according to a study released Tuesday. The study still points out a number of concerns with that scenario, though. Peter Hirschfeld reports on the possibility of the death penalty for accused killer Michael Jacques. We're pretty tired of seeing his face in the paper, but on the upside, hopefully this whole saga will spur changes in the way we deal with sex offenders.
A Vermonter from the Barre area will be premiering his first solo movie as a director this week – Frank Miller's "Spirit" will open tomorrow.
And finally, if you're looking for good this day, here's a letter about people helping out at U-32.

“Badge of honor.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy's staff has responded to Vice President Dick Cheney's admission this weekend that he did, in fact, tell the Vermont politician to "bleep off" during a debate on the Senate floor several years ago.

Here's what Leahy spokesperson David Carle had to say:

"It instantly became a badge of honor for Leahy supporters, and you get the sense that the Vice President and the Bush Administration wince harder every time the incident has come up since then, which adds up to a lot of wincing."

Carle notes that by a strange coincidence, one of the trivia questions this morning during Leahy's stop at Ben & Jerry's (they honored him for becoming Vermont's longest serving senator) was this one:

Question 2: In the movie Batman the Dark Knight, which villain does Senator Leahy's character fend off?
a.) The Riddler
b.) The Joker
c.) Dick Cheney

Not to be picky, but shouldn't the question by "which villain does Sen. Leahy try to fend off? If push came to shove, my sense is that the Joker would have wiped the floor with our senator.

-Dan Barlow

“He merited it.”

Vice President Dick Cheney (remember him?) hit the Sunday news talk shows this weekend and was asked about his well-publicized curse word he threw at Sen. Patrick Leahy several years ago.

Here's a transcript of the exchange, courtesy of William Kristol's New York Times column (which strangely tries to cast Cheney as some sort of justice-seeking cowboy riding off into the sunset).

Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE: Did you really tell Senator Leahy, bleep yourself?

CHENEY: I did.

WALLACE: Any qualms, or second thoughts, or embarrassment?

CHENEY: No, I thought he merited it at the time. (Laughter.) And we’ve since, I think, patched over that wound and we’re civil to one another now.

I'm not certain, but I believe this may be the first time that Cheney admitted he told Leahy to "bleep off." I'm waiting for a response now from the Leahy camp – is it true that the two are now BFFs?

Doubt it.

-Dan Barlow

Daily Roundup

The economy may stink, but the snow keeps coming. That's good news for the ski areas, and this is great snow, too. Light, fluffy, pure powder. Here's to winter!
From around the state:
The state approved the first round of budget cuts, with more to come; the voting lawsuit against the Secretary of State was halted; and southern Vermont is looking for money to help with the recent ice storm damage. More bad news: 27 will lose their jobs at Norwich. Balance that with a nice story about a Marine returning from Iraq in Rutland – home safe for the holidays. Also, if you happen to watch the Patriots' game on Sunday, specifically the pre-game ceremonies, you might see the Times Argus' and Central Vermont's own Phil Duprey, who will re-enlist in the National Guard at the 50-yard line. Then he gets to watch the game from a luxury box, a well-deserved perk.

Rob Mitchell

Daily Roundup

News from around the state, from the Vermont Press Bureau and the staff of the Times Argus and Rutland Herald.
We mourn the sudden loss of Montpelier icon Margot George and send our condolences to her family and friends.

From the Press Bureau, reporting on budget cut implications; a new plan for electric transmission lines in New Hampshire that could help Vermont; and more on the Brooke Bennett case's impact.
Remember the Killington secession movement? There are still some vestiges of that battle hanging around the town, which irks some of the residents. For the record Killington is still part of Vermont, and the ski area just celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Rutland's mayor has a new motivator for people to give blood: he'll shave his head if the Dec. 23 blood drive breaks the regional record of 772 pints. 

-Rob Mitchell

Thousands still without power

When I moved to Montpelier from Brattleboro nearly two years ago, one of the first things I noticed was that the weather – the winter weather actually – is more severe up here. We get more snow, we get more cold and we get more ice.

So, I've been a bit surprised this week by the extent of ice and snow damage across Vermont and New Hampshire because up here, well, we have a little ice on the sidewalk, but we're mostly fine.

But this morning I got a phone call from my father wanting to know if we are alright up here – he had just spoken to a family friend in New Hampshire who has been without power for three days. Last night I got an instant message from a fellow Vermont journalist in Windham County – more tales of disaster as freezing rain hit the region.

It's been years since I've gone without electricity for more than a few hours – and that was long before computers became such a vital part of my routine and communication. My house is warm, my lights are on and my cat is happy. I'm thankful for that.

-Dan Barlow

State budget cuts not out this week

During his weekly press conference Wednesday, Gov. James Douglas told reporters that his administration's list of recommended cuts for the current cycle would probably be out this week.

On Friday, administration officials said, "Not today."

The Douglas administration hopes to come to agreements for about $36 million in cuts – the amount that state revenue is projected to drop – although all signals point to an agreement reached with the Joint Fiscal Committee over about $20 million in cuts. For now.

After closed-door meetings throughout the week between lawmakers and the Douglas administration, the two sides are scheduled to meet formally again at the Statehouse next week.

UPDATE, 4:13 p.m.: Steve Wark, Douglas' spokesperson, just released a statement confirming that the list of cuts will be made public Monday.

Here's what he had to say:

Secretary of Administration Neale F. Lunderville announced today that the proposed budget rescission list will be released in full on Monday morning at 10:00 AM.  “Discussions are progressing and we are nearing final decisions,” said Secretary Lunderville.  “We expect to have the completed list by Saturday.  Out of respect for the employees that will be impacted by these steps, I am asking department heads to meet with affected staffs prior to public release,” Secretary Lunderville said. 

On Monday, the list of recommended cuts can be found at

The meetings with Joint Fiscal are scheduled for:

– Tuesday, Dec. 16th at 2 p.m., with public hearings scheduled for 4 p.m. that day.

– Wednesday, Dec. 17th from 1-5 p.m.

-Dan Barlow

Court delay

The status conference in the lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice against Secretary of State Deb Markowitz scheduled for this morning has been delayed until Friday morning.

The fun should start at the Burlington federal court at about 9:30 a.m.

-Dan Barlow

Kunin: Put Caroline Kennedy in the Senate

Former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin seems very interested in seeing Caroline Kennedy move to the U.S. Senate to fill Hillary Clinton's position as she moves over to becoming secretary of state.

Kunin, who has championed a larger role for women in politics, made her comments at her Huffington Post blog Wednesday.

Here's a key 'graph:

The evolution of Caroline Kennedy from socialite, mother, volunteer, campaigner for Barack Obama, andfinally, into a candidate herself would be a significant transformation. She got a taste of what it feels like to wield power when she convinced uncle Teddy to endorse Barack Obama.

-Dan Barlow

Douglas to testify before U.S. House committee

Gov. James Douglas will testify before the U.S. House Appropriations Committee in Washington, D.C. Thursday.

The committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. David Obey, is holding hearings on an economic stimulus package for the states. Douglas met with President-elect Barack Obama to push for such a spending plan last week.

It's not clear yet if Douglas will actually be traveling to D.C. Thursday or testifying by phone or video conference. But his spokesperson Steve Wark promises more information at the governor's 1 p.m. press conference today.

-Dan Barlow

Celebrating Lincoln

Did you know that 2009 will mark the 200th birthday of President Lincoln? I didn't either.

Thankfully, there are people in charge to know these things.

The Vermont Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission will announce its series of events to celebrate the 16th president's birthday throughout the state in 2009.

(I know a lot has been made of the connections between Lincoln and President-elect Barack Obama. I guess you can now add the year of Lincoln's 200th birthday coinciding with Obama taking the helm to that list).

The event is at 11 a.m. in the Cedar Creek Room of the Statehouse in Montpelier. Check out for more information.

-Dan Barlow