Monthly Archives: January 2009

Blago: Impeach the Vermont governor

In his rambling epic speech to try and save his job yesterday, (now former) Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich suggested the while they are at it, lawmakers should also impeach several other governors and elected officials across the country.

He included Gov. James Douglas of Vermont on that list.

The connection – I think – is that one of the impeachment articles against Blago is that he tried to import cheaper Canadian drugs into this country without the approval of the FDA. Vermont has a similar program – one that has been championed by politicians from all sides of the aisle.

So, Blago essentially said – "If you want to hang me for that, you should hang them too."

Here's the portion where he mentions Vermont:

"Senator Cullerton's congressman, my congressman came to me with a good idea and said why don't you lead the charge and lead the fight on this and be the first state to go to Canada and test whether or not the FDA will allow you to do it or not" Think about the morality of this, think about how it can help our seniors, and think about what we can do to help families.

And I loved the idea and we did it. And then so did Wisconsin, and so did Kansas, and so did Vermont.

If you're impeaching me on providing safe and affordable prescription drugs by going to Canada and getting the same medicines made by the exact same companies, then the governor of Wisconsin ought to be impeached, the governor of Kansas ought to be impeached, the governor of Vermont ought to be impeached. And while we're at it, let's go reach right into the United States Senate and let's expel John McCain and Ted Kennedy, because I worked with them on this issue of the re-importation of prescription drugs."

A snarky comment should probably go here, but I can't think of one right now.

-Dan Barlow

Welch goes back to the Middle East

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., will make his third congressional trip to the Middle East soon, his office announced Thursday.

Welch, who made two trips to that part of the world during his freshman year in the U.S. House, will also visit parts of southeast Asia on this trip. He is going as part of a congressional delegation led by U.S. Rep. John Tierney, the chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs.

More details of the trip will be revealed to reporters during a conference call with Welch on Monday, Feb. 2.

-Dan Barlow

S.O.S. blog launches

The coalition of advocates and non-profit groups worried about Gov. James Douglas' proposed cuts to the state budget are wasting no time in getting their act together.

Calling themselves S.O.S. – Save our State – the groups representing Vermont's poor, disabled and elderly launched a blog this week as they kick off a series of press conferences, rallies and other demonstrations across the state.

Rallies will be held in about a dozen Vermont communities on Feb. 2 as the groups try to pressure Douglas to back away from some of his proposed cuts and try to convince lawmakers not to approve the governor's proposed budget.

Christopher Curtis, a staff attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, had this to say in an e-mail Tuesday morning:

"Advocates for low-income and working Vermonters and others who rely on essential services have objected to these budget cuts and are calling for increasing taxes as a better way to balance the budget. While there has been much news on the subject in recent days, these advocacy groups want to invite the public into the discussion."

-Dan Barlow 

IBM cuts

The rumors have been swirling for weeks that it would happen on a Tuesday and I guess this is the Tuesday – IBM in Essex Junction is cutting jobs again today.

The scope of the cuts is unclear right now, but it appears that less than 500 people will be laid off.

Anyone who has lost their job in Vermont over the last 18 months should call the state Department of Labor to file for unemployment benefits. Their hotline is 1-877-214-3330.

-Dan Barlow

Oops

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is usually very careful with his words.

But this morning at a joint press conference in Montpelier with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, Sanders slipped a bit.

In his introduction at the meeting, Sanders discussed how Vermont's entire Washington delegation is backing President Obama's stimulus package. He said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy backs the plan and so does U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords.

Oops. Jeffords stepped down a few years back – and Sanders won his seat in the 2006 election. And of course Sanders' replacement – Peter Welch – was sitting right next to him.

I'm sure Jeffords would be on board with the plan too, if he were still serving.

-Dan Barlow

Monday news round-up

Here are a few news highlights from Vermont over the weekend.

- President Obama will permit several states, including Vermont, to regulate auto emissions and standards. That's a huge deal as the state fought President Bush's EPA over that issue for several years.

- Vermont bankers are warning customers that some debit and credit cards may have been compromised. Maybe that's why Brattleboro Savings & Loan terminated my card recently and sent me a new one? Check those account balances, people!

- Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean will teach a course this year at Yale University.

-Dan Barlow   

Advocates to Douglas: Don’t Cut

Ten advocacy groups held a press conference Friday morning at the Statehouse and their message was clear: Gov. James Douglas' budget proposal "is a direct attack on the programs that help vulnerable Vermonters."

Headlined by the Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security, members of the groups urged the governor to consider raising new revenues – such as an increased income tax on the wealthiest Vermonters – instead of cutting programs that help out the poor, disabled and elderly.

"The governor is known for his soft-spoken gentleness," said Rabbi Joshua Chasen of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue. "And while we appreciate his personal gentleness, we are longing to see it reflected in his budget."

The groups also unveiled the results of a scientific poll by the company Macro that shows Vermonters would be willing to see some tax increases if it meant keeping state health care programs open to the poor.

The first question asked, "In order to keep Catamount Health, Dr. Dynasaur and other state health care programs affordable for low income Vermonters, would you support a temporary state income tax surcharge for those earning more than $500,000 per year?"

About 56 percent of Vermonters said they would strongly support that and another 21 percent said they would somewhat support that plan. A similar polling question – this one asking about an increase of $1 on the tobacco tax – had even stronger support, with 70 percent saying they strongly support it.

Christopher Curtis, a staff attorney at Vermont Legal Aid, said Douglas' budget proposal is built on the backs of low-income Vermonters. He said the administration has already cut by $400,000 the Reach Up program, which is aimed to get Vermonters off welfare and back to work.

"It's amazing that he thinks it is a good idea to cut a program that helps move Vermonters off welfare," Curtis said. "This is a program that works and cutting it will just cost us more in the long run."

Messages from other advocates were just as dire. Elise Annes, the vice president for community relations for the Vermont Land Trust, said Douglas is "dismantling the Vermont programs in place that have helped Vermonters in need." Karen Schwartz, the executive director of the Vermont Disabilities Council, said Douglas is "sacrificing our future."

Richard Davis, the executive director of Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health, bristled with anger at the press conference Friday. He said this is a budget proposal from "someone who hasn't had a job outside of state government."

"He's taking the easy way out, " Davis said. "Budget cuts are the easy way."

The organizations are calling on Vermonters concerned about the cuts to join them in a serious of protests across the state on Feb. 2. Under the banner of S.O.S. Save Our State, rallies will be held in Burlington, Montpelier, St. Johnsbury, Bennington, Hardwick, St. Albans, Brattleboro, Randolph, Middlebury and Rutland.

-Dan Barlow

The Battle over Gay Marriage

Vermonters opposed to same-sex marriage are preparing for a fight this year at the Statehouse.

In an e-mail to supporters this week, Craig Bensen of the group Take it to the People warned that this may be the year that the Vermont Legislature passes a "genderless marriage bill." His group supports putting the gay marriage question on a statewide ballot.

Here's what he says:

The "genderless" marriage movement in VT (and the USA) needs a "win", any "win", that lets them claim forward motion in the face of widespread national defeats. They need it this year (2009) in VT because 2010 is an election year and the Democrats in the VT House will not want to play with fire too close to an election. Many remember the scars of the 2000 Civil Unions battle. The wise among them remember that Election 2000 resulted in the greatest reversal of legislative power in modern times. 

Bensen urges his supporters to begin writing letters opposing the bill to lawmakers. The anti-gay groups mostly sat out out the commission hearings on same-sex marriage last year, but it's clear they won't be silent this year.

-Dan Barlow

The Budget Address

By now most people have probably heard the big news from Gov. James Douglas' proposal: 600 state jobs need to be cut as part of his plan to bridge a $200 million gap in the 2010 spending plan.

He also worked into his budget a move of the teacher retirement fund out of the general fund and over to the education fund – for a savings of $40 million. But that clearly won't fly with the Democrats in the legislature.

But what struck me during his speech were both the contrasts and similarities between Douglas' words and President Barack Obama's inaugural speech. Obama's speech was certainly more uplifting than Douglas' speech – it helps that the new president didn't have to propose slashing programs and workers.

Still, there is a sense that Obama has not only changed politics in the United States, but also how speeches are written. For example, I don't think a pre-Obama Douglas would have started off his budget speech by quoting Abraham Lincoln. Watch for the 16th President to continue popping up in political speeches around the country.

There were a handful of lines toward the end of Douglas' speech that seems right out of the Obama play book. Here's the main example I saw:

Together, in these dark hours, we will conquer collective anxiety with shared resolve – beat back cold fear with a hope as deep as the green of a Vermont spring – and push past partisanship to serve the people in a way that honors their struggle.

Those are Douglas' words. Compare that with Obama's speech on Tuesday:

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

Hope: It's contagious.

-Dan Barlow

Gitmo and the Budget Address

Sorry for the lack of posting Wednesday, but the Statehouse wireless system was done – putting a cramp in my blogging style.

It's a big day at the Statehouse today – Gov. James Douglas will give his fiscal year 2010 budget address in less than an hour. Reporters got a glimpse of the budget during a sit-down with administration officials, but sorry, that information is embargoed until after his speech this afternoon.

Let me just say this: There will be a lot to talk about in his budget. But I bet everyone already knew that.

The other big news items that caught my eye this afternoon is President Barack Obama (still getting used to writing that) signing an order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year. There were resolutions circulating in the Vermont House and Senate earlier this month calling on Obama to close the facility on day one of his administration – but that point may be moot now.

Here's what Sen. Patrick Leahy had to say about the move:

"President Obama's new executive orders are important steps toward bringing to an end some of the Bush administration's most damaging national security policies. These orders are first steps. Congress must work in a bipartisan way with President Obama to implement them. Our new President is sending a clear signal that we are moving forward and demonstrating to the world that we can both protect our national security and remain a nation of laws that respects human dignity."

Meanwhile, a Vermont lawyer representing a client at Gitmo wonders what this means for his case.

-Dan Barlow 

President Barack Obama

I just wanted to write that for the first time.

-Dan Barlow

Vermont Editorial Roundup

The inauguration is taking the spotlight today, not just in Vermont, but around the nation and the world. Much of the coverage seems a bit breathless, but it is rare that there is a moment like this in history that is expected and gives the media time to prepare. What you're seeing is the result of that preparation – we're on the story and we'll get into every nook and cranny.
Around the state, the editorials are mostly about the incoming president and the hope or symbol that he represents to so many. The Times Argus and the Rutland Herald are publishing an inaugural special edition later today; our editorials call this day a turning point for America, and a historic moment.
The Caledonian Record casts Obama's inauguration as a 'momentus day in the history of the modern world', and calls it a 'proud and joyous day for our country'.
Down south the Brattleboro Reformer calls this an opportunity for a more mature discourse
and talks about the 'power of words'. They hit on something here, which is the fact that Obama and YouTube have taken the discourse back from the 24-hour news cycle of sound bites and trivialities. Simply by typing in a few keywords anyone can find the full text or watch the entirety of almost any speech or message of the incoming President. I think that is very good for the people of this country, and it's not just about Obama.
The Bennington Banner, owned by the same group as the Reformer, takes a more skeptical view, talking about the hype surrounding the president-elect, and the danger it represents. As I write this, the cable news channels are on wall-to-wall coverage of the inauguration, with endless loops of commentary by the talking heads. Will Obama live up to the hype? He is certainly the most commercialized president in memory – his image is on just about everything from billboards to t-shirts to baby-wear.
The Free Press makes a call for renewed sacrifice shared among all Americans; that culture was spawned by the Great Depression generation and in general it is believed that it has been lost. But the know-how on how to make ends meet has not been lost, as the rapidly changing spending habits of Americans over the last 6 months attests.
Most of the weeklies in the state come out on a Wednesday, so their editorials are about last week's opening salvo of the legislative session from Gov. James Douglas. The Stowe Reporter lauded him for boldnes; the Addison Independent is a little behind in asking for a balanced approach to spending in its Dec. 30 editorial; and the Randolph Herald editorial opens with Douglas throwing bombs, but to access the full editorial takes an online subscription, so we'll end there. Happy Inauguration Day!
-Rob Mitchell

Monday morning news round-up

It's a big week, both in Vermont and Washington, D.C. Here's a few news items that have my attention this morning.

- There's a new president coming tomorrow. A crowd of 50 residents from Montpelier leave in a bus for D.C. this evening. Expect lots of coverage about Vermonters and this historic inauguration in the Times Argus and Rutland Herald this week.

- State Auditor Thomas Salmon wants to open up casinos at Vermont ski resorts.

- The Vermont House Committee on Appropriations will hold a public hearing on Gov. James Douglas' budget adjustment proposal on Wednesday, Jan. 21. That takes place in Room 11 on the first floor of the Statehouse in Montpelier from 1:15-3:15 p.m. For more information, drop Theresa Utton-Jerman a line at 802-828-5970 or at tutton@leg.state.vt.us

- Al Franken, who really does appear to be the new senator from Minnesota, chatted with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders at a D.C. fundraiser over the weekend. I bet they will get along great.

- Want a quick laugh? Here's a fictional Blog by Vermont plumbers.

- It's also President Bush's last full day in office. I'm working on a story about what Vermont Republicans think his legacy might be. And truth be told, I'm having a hard time to find Republicans to say anything about him – let alone anything nice.

-Dan Barlow 

Poll: Douglas still popular

For a fourth-term Republican in a Democratic state, Gov. James Douglas sure is popular.

Research 2000, hired by the liberal Blog Daily Kos, polled Vermonters this month on their feelings for Douglas and U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy

More than half of Vermonters have a favorable view of Douglas – 52 percent. Another 41 percent don't like the guy and 7 percent had no opinion. That doesn't seem too different than the results of November's election, when Vermonters easily gave Douglas a fourth term.

Leahy does better – he has a 63 percent favorability and a 33 percent unfavorability. 

Not surprisingly, the poll also found that Douglas probably shouldn't even consider running against Leahy for the U.S. Senate in 2010. Leahy would trump him with 58 percent of the vote compared with Douglas' 36 percent. Only 6 percent would be undecided – not nearly enough people to make up that 22-point spread between the two men.

Hat tip to Green Mountain Daily for breaking the news of the poll this afternoon.

-Dan Barlow 

“Rally for Life” has controversial speaker

Pro-life Vermonters will gather at the Statehouse tomorrow for a rally in opposition to abortion.

But their main speaker – Steven Mosher, a self-described expert in China and "coercive population control programs" was expelled from Stanford University for publishing semi-nude photographs of Chinese woman preparing to have abortions.

Apparently, these photos – which were published in Asian newspapers – exposed the faces of these women and therefore also their identity.

Here's what Mosher said in 2003 as the United States  prepared to go to war with Iraq:

"If we Americans behave in Iraq as we behave in other countries, upon Baghdad's surrender we will fly in teams of population controllers and 'gender advisors.' They will inaugurate programs which will subject Iraqi children, especially girls, to graphic sex education programs. They will stock Iraqi medical clinics with condoms and contraceptives…It gets worse. The gender advisors (this is what they are really called), will provide assertiveness training to Iraqi women, urging them out of the home into the marketplace. They will organize special courses (reserved for women of course) in which they are urged to run for public office and start their own businesses."

I bet Mosher will have some interesting things to say at the Statehouse rally Saturday. Apparently, he will be speaking on the House floor. The rally begins at 10:45 a.m. behind Montpelier's City Hall for a march to the Statehouse.

-Dan Barlow