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September 2012

September 28, 2012

The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Scoreboard.newEach Friday here at Off Message headquarters we bring you the week's winners and losers. Our formula for determining who belongs in what category is really quite simple: We crumple up a week's worth of Vermont newspapers, soak them in a bucket full of tritium and send them down The Chute at Jay Peak. Whatever comes out the other end we post here.

And now, behold The Scoreboard, for the week of Sept. 28:

Winners:

Northeast Kingdom — Okay, this one's a layup. Jay Peak owner Bill Stenger's announcement of half a billion dollars of investment in the middle of nowhere is kind of a big deal. Runners-up: The thousand-plus foreign nationals who get to skip to the front of the green card line after investing $500,000 in the projects. Second runner-up: Whoever Stenger's flack is. The perfect combination of hype and secrecy had the press drooling over details of Thursday's NEK announcement.

Wendy Wilton — We liberal media elites mostly wrote Wilton off when the Rutland City treasurer jumped into the race against incumbent Democratic state treasurer, Beth Pearce. But thanks to a big boost from the Vermonters First super PAC and an aggressive campaign, the Rutland Republican is turning the race into the down-ticket battle to watch.

Jonathan LeopoldThe dismissal of a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to force Burlington Telecom to immediately repay $17 million in mismanaged money was a big victory for Leopold, Burlington's former chief administrative officer. The plaintiffs, two former city councilors, sought to force Leopold himself to come up with the cash. Dude told Seven Days he felt "vindicated" by the case's dismissal — even though Judge Geoffrey Crawford gave him a real finger-wagging in his decision.

Television stations — No doubt the owners of WCAX, WPTZ, FOX44 and ABC22 wish their stations were located in Cleveland or Tampa or Des Moines, where the real, presidential-calibre cash is flooding the airwaves. But ad buys placed in the past week by candidates Randy Brock, Phil Scott, Jack McMullen, Wendy Wilton and Beth Pearce — not to mention Vermonters First's continuing support — are surely helping the stations' bottom line. Shit, if McMullen decides to go hog-wild with his new ad campaign, they'll be like pigs at the money trough.

Losers after the jump...

Continue reading "The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers" »

September 27, 2012

Pearce to Fight Back on the Airwaves

Beth-PearceAs we reported in this week's Fair Game, Vermont Democrats are worried that incumbent State Treasurer Beth Pearce is being vastly outspent by forces loyal to her Republican opponent, Rutland City Treasurer Wendy Wilton. Most troubling for the Dems: the conservative super PAC Vermonters First, which has fastened on to Wilton's candidacy — financing television ads, mailers and robo-calls on her behalf.

Today, Pearce's campaign started to fight back on the airwaves. According to records obtained from four Vermont television stations and confirmed by Pearce's staff, she has secured roughly $20,000 worth of ad time during the final week of the race.

Most of that money — $16,700 of it — will pay for 52 spots on WCAX-TV. Another $3200 will be split between WPTZ-TV, Fox44 and ABC22.

Continue reading "Pearce to Fight Back on the Airwaves" »

"Phil" Baruth? Since When?

DSC03461Maybe you've seen the lawn signs — bright blue placards with white letters imploring you to re-elect someone named "Phil Baruth" to the state Senate this November.

We definitely remember a guy named "Philip Baruth." He was an author, English professor at UVM, political blogger, VPR commentator and was elected to represent Chittenden County in the state Senate in 2010. It appears that Philip Baruth still works at UVM. And the state's official 2012 candidate roster lists a Philip Baruth, but no Phil.

So who is this Phil Baruth? Seven Days launched a resource-intensive investigation to learn the truth. But after numerous public records requests, dozens of scathing editorials and many nights of digging through Philip Baruth's trash, we were no closer to an answer.

So we picked up the phone, dialed Philip Baruth and asked him.

Continue reading ""Phil" Baruth? Since When?" »

Former Presidential Candidate Sues St. Michael's Student Journalists for Libel

John D. HaywoodRemember John D. Haywood, the Democrat who challenged President Barack Obama in the New Hampshire primary?

Neither do we.

Haywood didn't get much press in the run-up to the first-in-the-nation primary — nor did a dozen other also-rans whose names appeared on the ballot. But journalism students of Saint Michael's College took the time to interview and profile each and every B-lister on the New Hampshire primary ballot in the name of the democracy.

Now one of those candidates — Haywood — is suing St. Mike's, and the two student journalists who penned his profile, for libel. In a federal lawsuit filed at U.S. District Court in Burlington, Haywood claims that the article — published online six days before the Jan. 10 primary — contained numerous mis-characterizations about his record and portrayed him as a "bumbling, inept monster."

Haywood blames the article for costing him the race against Obama; Haywood received just 432 votes, the lawsuit notes, losing to the prez by a ratio of 115 to 1.

And here's the kicker. Haywood wants the court to award him a metric shit-ton in damages: $1 million to compensate him for "the permanent damage to his reputation" in his home community of Durham, N.C., $50 million in punitive damages, and $120,202 to reimburse what his campaign spent on newspaper advertising. (Because, you know, the college journalism piece totally sunk his White House dreams).

Haywood's justification for that eye-popping sum? "It is ... an amount that will, after taxes, enable Plaintiff to run in 2016 with a cleared name and and [sic] the ability to do the advertising that can perhaps overcome his low 2012 vote count."

Continue reading "Former Presidential Candidate Sues St. Michael's Student Journalists for Libel" »

In VPR Commentary, Douglas Waxes Nostalgic About the Days of Old

MicrophoneIt's nearly October in an election year. Which means that somewhere deep within the bowels of Middlebury College, former governor Jim Douglas is waxing nostalgic about the good ol' days. The days when he was immersed, as he wistfully recalls in a Vermont Public Radio commentary that aired Wednesday evening, in "shaking hands, kissing babies, raising money and running political ads, all to persuade voters to give me the opportunity to serve."

Only, something has changed in the political world since ol' Jimbo hung up his hat. Things just ain't what they used to be. This year, the ex-gov says, he just "can't wait for the political season to be over" and envies "our Canadian neighbors, who recently ended a campaign that lasted a mere 33 days."

Why?

We're enduring a barrage of radio, television and internet ads that are trying to influence our votes. Most don't offer policy initiatives or visions of the contenders who sponsor them: the majority tell us why the other candidate is no good. Even the positive ads lack any real substance, for fear of offending a key constituency or furnishing fodder to the opposition.

Back when Douglas was running for office, things were different. Douglas kept things positive and stuck to the issues. Like in this ad from his 2008 race against then-House Speaker Gaye Symington and then-radio host Anthony Pollina:

 

Continue reading "In VPR Commentary, Douglas Waxes Nostalgic About the Days of Old" »

Morning Read: Vermont Is As Business Unfriendly As ....Mali?

Morning Read

Seven Days contributing writer Kevin J. Kelley wrote this post.

A commentary in today's Burlington Free Press offers inadvertent but persuasive proof that graduate degrees from Ivy League institutions are no guarantee against loopy thinking.

UVM business school assistant professor Allison Kingsley, who holds a master's from Yale and a PhD from Columbia, groups Vermont with several failed states that, she claims, handcuff private business by imposing “high corporate taxes, high energy costs, arduous permitting, and extensive regulations.”

The failed states Kingsley, who earns $125,000 a year, is referring to are not Nevada, Florida or Michigan — all of which are suffering from rampant unemployment and destabilized housing markets. No, Kingsley is likening Vermont to such third-world sinkholes as Burundi, Mali and Sri Lanka.

Kingsley, who's been mis-educating UVM students since 2010, concedes in her Freeps screed that she may be too recent an arrival in Vermont to understand how things actually work here.

For sure.

But she clearly has no clue, either, about the nature of the troubled countries that she claims are similar to Vermont.

Continue reading "Morning Read: Vermont Is As Business Unfriendly As ....Mali?" »

September 26, 2012

7 Lessons From Wednesday's Gubernatorial Debate on WDEV

ShumlinBrockWDEV

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin and his Republican rival for the state's top job, Sen Randy Brock (R-Franklin), met for their second debate of the season Wednesday morning — and it was a feisty affair.

Hosted by WDEV-FM and moderated by Mark Johnson, the hour-long debate was held at the Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex. The candidates spent much of their time discussing what seems to be the defining issue of this race — their competing health care plans — but touched on a number of other topics as well, including industrial wind, the lottery, taxes, jobs and, um, pot.

Click here to listen to a recording of the debate and read on for seven lessons we learned from it. (Photo of Brock and Shumlin courtesy of WPTZ-TV's Stewart Ledbetter.)

Continue reading "7 Lessons From Wednesday's Gubernatorial Debate on WDEV" »

This Week in Seven Days: September 26, 2012

LM-moosedonkeyWhat to look for in this week's dead-tree edition of Seven Days...

One final note: Friends and family of former VTDigger.org reporter Alan Panebaker, who died in a kayaking accident last week, will hold a celebration of his life at Eagle Park in Bristol this Saturday at 2 p.m. Donations can be made in Panebaker’s name to American Whitewater, where he last worked, at P.O. Box 1540, Cullowhee, NC 28723.

Illustration by Torrey Valyou

What If the NFL's Replacement Referees Ran Google? A Local Developer Tries to Find Out

Referee_dreamstime_xl_15054635Football fans have spent September crowing about "replacement refs" — temporary referees the NFL is employing while it's embroiled in a contract dispute with the union that represents the league's usual officials. After just three weeks, the scabs have already gained a reputation of laughable incompetence, coming to a head last weekend when they potentially screwed the New England Patriots out of a victory and definitely screwed the Green Bay Packers.

What would happen if utterly unprepared "replacements" took over other stuff? Well, our Google searches wouldn't be very useful, as Replacement Google shows us. Type whatever you want to search for into Replacement Google — for example, "Vermont" — and watch as it returns a stream of results that's completely useless (for example, "A DVD of Cool Runnings.")

This fun diversion is the brainchild of Winooski developer and sports fan Erik Johnson. Johnson's also the man behind Just Enjoy!, an online travel site that organizes trips to big sporting events (we wrote about it in its previous incarnation as Vermont Baseball Tours in the sidebar here). The site went viral within hours — it's been spotlighted by BuzzFeedthe Huffington Postthe Los Angeles Times and Deadspin, just to name a few, and Johnson says it attracted 104,329 unique visitors just yesterday. Not bad for an hour's worth of work. 

And now that we've seen the dark side of a world with broken search, let us hope that Google doesn't lock out its algorithms.

Photo © Cory Thoman | Dreamstime.com

The Fact Checker: Has Vermont Added 7500 New Jobs Since Shumlin Was Elected?

Factchecker-mostlyfalseWith the 2012 campaign season in full swing, Seven Days has teamed up with VTDigger.org to create a fact-checker feature to test the "truthiness" of claims made by the candidates who want your vote this November. This week's Fact Checker was written by Paul Heintz.

CLAIM: "We've added 7500 new jobs in the state of Vermont since we got elected two years ago."   

— Gov. Peter Shumlin, campaign kickoff,  September 10, 2012 

FACTS: If you've spent any time listening to Gov. Peter Shumlin argue his case for a second term, you've heard the number 7500. That's how many jobs he says have been created in Vermont since he took office in January 2011. 

Shumlin's campaign says it arrived at that figure by comparing the Vermont Department of Labor's tally of not-seasonally-adjusted, nonfarm jobs between January 2011 and June 2012. And, indeed, the number increased by 7550 during that time frame — from 296,600 to 304,150 jobs. 

But the story doesn't end in June. In July, the number of nonfarm jobs dropped 4950 to 299,200. And in August, it dipped another 900 to 298,300. Throughout Shumlin's 21 months in office, therefore, the number of not-seasonally-adjusted, nonfarm jobs has increased by just 1700. 

Of course, there's a reason economists seasonally adjust employment figures: They tend to fluctuate in a fairly predictable pattern throughout the year. For instance, last summer's June-to-July drop-off was similar to this past one; in 2011, the June-to-July nonfarm employment figure dropped from 299,450 to 292,950 — the lowest jobs figure of Shumlin's tenure. In December 2011, that figure surged to 308,100 — the highest of his tenure. 

When employment numbers are seasonally adjusted, Shumlin's record looks a little better — though not quite as rosy as he claims. Between January 2011 and August 2012, the number of seasonally adjusted, nonfarm jobs increased by 4700 — from 298,500 to 303,200. 

Another way to judge Shumlin's economic record is to look at unemployment figures. Between January 2011 and August 2012, the seasonally adjusted number of unemployed Vermonters fell from 21,600 (6 percent) to 19,000 (5.3 percent). While unemployment is lower now than when Shumlin took office, it has actually increased during each of the past three months, from a low of 16,400 (4.6 percent) in May.  

SCORE: Gov. Shumlin's claim  that Vermont has added 7500 jobs  during his tenure may have been true in June, but it's not true anymore. Using his own criteria, the correct number would be 1700. If Shumlin wants to provide an accurate sense of job creation during his tenure, he should shift to the seasonally adjusted measure, which shows an increase of 4700 nonfarm jobs during his tenure. By cherry-picking the best numbers available to him, Shumlin exaggerates Vermont's job growth during the past 21 months. We rate his claim "Mostly False."

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