Burlington might be one of the few
places in the United States where a crowd would cram an auditorium on
a sunny spring Saturday to listen to a lecture on the Danish social
The 200-plus audience members gathered
in city hall auditorium got what they came for. In a
90-minute session sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Denmark's U.S.
ambassador, Peter Taksoe-Jensen (pictured), laid out a lengthy list of benefits
his country provides all its citizens.
He said Danes receive free health care;
free education from pre-school through university; $40,000 annual
pensions after age 65, "with no need to have any attachment to
the labor market"; a full year of maternity benefits, including
payment of the woman's full salary for the first six months after her
baby is born; and guaranteed day care through age 5, with parents
paying a maximum of 25 percent of its cost. The list also includes a
$17-an-hour minimum wage (compared to the U.S. standard of $7.25) and
two years of payments to unemployed Danes of 90 percent of the wages
they had been earning.
Taksoe-Jensen also described Denmark's
progressive energy policy, which aims to phase out all fossil fuels
by 2050. Already, he said, renewable sources cover 40 percent of the
country's energy consumption. In the U.S., it's 13 percent.
The ambassador pointed out that Danes
rank as the happiest people in the world, according to a United
Nations survey. And the Vermonters listening to his litany might in
turn have qualified as the most envious people in the world.
Introducing the story, WCAX anchor Kristin Kelly promises serious drama, saying Welch "is now feeling some heat" from a scandal that's rocked the Obama administration and already claimed the jobs of at least two top IRS officials.
Senior political reporter Kristin Carlson takes it from there.
"The fallout hitting the White House has also reached Congressman Peter Welch," she reports. "Some conservative critics charge he encouraged the IRS to do what so many are angry about now."
"In a press release last year
announcing he sent letters to the IRS and president," Carlson says, "Welch encouraged the
IRS to, quote, 'investigate whether nonprofit 501(c)(4) organizations
affiliated with Super PACs — such as Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-backed
group... are in violation.'"
Wait a second. Welch specifically called on the IRS to investigate Crossroads GPS?
A convicted sex offender who assumed the identity of an Iraq war veteran for six years while living in Vermont pleaded guilty to multiple charges in federal court on Thursday.
David P. Oswald III entered guilty pleas to charges of failing to register as a sex offender, health care fraud, possessing a firearm as a felon, and possession of child pornography. As part of a plea agreement, Oswald faces up 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines, followed by supervised release for the remainder of his life.
As reported by Seven Days last October, Oswald pulled off a stunning multiyear fraud after obtaining stolen military identification that belonged to Bobby Lee Triplett, an Army vet from North Carolina who did four combat tours in Iraq. The two men never met, but Oswald apparently came into possession of the stolen documents in Washington State, where hedisappeared in 2006 after skipping parole.
Oswald used the documents to create a new life for himself. With Triplett's full name, Social Security number and date of birth, he was able to obtain a passport, register a car, buy guns, register to vote in Williston, obtain a non-driver's identification from Vermont and join the Vermont State Guard — a civilian militia that supports the Vermont National Guard in times of crisis.
But Oswald was finally caught after seeking medical treatment from the Veterans Administration under Triplett's name. After receiving medical bills totalling $4000 from the VA in Vermont — a state Triplett had never stepped foot in — he reported the fraud to federal authorities, who eventually tracked Oswald down at the Chittenden Fish and Game Club in Jonesville, where he was camping out in a dilapidated trailer.
Six years after joining Vermont Public Radio, news director Ross Sneyd is leaving the station next Friday to take a communications gig at the Montpelier-based National Life Group.
Though he says he "did not do it lightly and gave it a lot of thought," the veteran Vermont journalist says it's time to try something new. He says he's particularly looking forward to cutting down his daily commute from Plainfield to VPR's Colchester studio and spending more time running the bed-and-breakfast he owns with his partner.
"VPR, I think, has established itself as the leading news organization in Vermont — or certainly one of the leading news organizations," he says. "I'm really proud of what VPR does and what it will continue to do. I will continue to be a listener and a member and wish them all the best luck."
A longtime fixture in the Vermont journalism scene, Sneyd moved to the state in 1987 to take a job with the Burlington Free Press. He spent 18 years reporting for the Associated Press — the final 16 of them in its Montpelier bureau — before joining VPR in 2007.
Green Mountain College today announced that it is divesting its $3.1 million endowment from fossil fuel companies, making the Poultney liberal arts school the fifth college in the nation — and the second in Vermont, after Sterling College — to endorse a campaign playing out on more than 300 campuses across the country.
The goal isn't necessarily to hit companies like Mobil, Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell in the pocketbook; most divestment advocates agree that even the wealthiest universities won't make much of a ding in these corporation's profits by divesting.
“I don’t think financially we can cripple them. They’re so big and so rich,” Vermont resident and environmental activist Bill McKibben told Seven Days in December, as the divestment campaign was gaining steam. Rather, McKibben said divestment represents an “inherently moral call, saying if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”
GMC's board of trustees voted on Friday to immediately divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies targeted in the nationwide divestment campaign headed up by the environmental activism organization founded by McKibben, 350.org. Currently 1 percent of GMC's endowment is tied up in these companies, which collectively own the vast majority of the world's coal, oil and gas reserves.
"We see this as another step in an ongoing effort to connect our investment decisions with our ideals,” said GMC president Paul Fonteyn in a statement released today. "Investing endowment funds on the basis of social, economic and environmental criteria is one of the ways Green Mountain College expresses its values."
Update, 6:08 p.m.: Hardy Macia passed away late this afternoon, according to a source close to his family. Friends and fellow activists alike have already begun posting remembrances on his Facebook wall. "Rest in peace, Hardy," wrote one friend. "We will never forget how you went out fighting. You have been such a positive influence on so many people — will miss you, man."
Now Macia is back in Vermont, fighting for his life. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in August 2012. It's typically a treatable form of cancer, but Macia's has not responded the way he and his doctors had hoped. He was recently hospitalized in New Hampshire, then transferred to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington to be closer to family. He's since been moved to a family member's home in Westford.
In a private Facebook message to me this morning, he summed up his prognosis: "My time is short," he wrote, "the doctors are saying I have days left."
His condition might be a private family matter but for the fact that he's seized this opportunity to continue his campaign to change New Hampshire's marijuana laws. A week ago, he made a 4-minute video in his New Hampshire hospital room and posted it to YouTube. Speaking in a whisper because of a collapsed lung, he implores Gov. Maggie Hassan to help patients like him access medical marijuana. The New Hampshire legislature is currently considering a medical marijuana bill, and it needs the governor's support to pass. "This is about the patients, and doctors," he rasps, "and having the medicine that the patients need."
Macia explains that he occasionally uses marijuana to ease his pain. "To get to sleep at night, sometimes it's the only thing that helps put me out, versus some of the harder drugs they give me, such as the oxycodone or vicodin or whatever."
I asked Macia if Hassan had responded to his plea. Their response, he wrote, was that she will "listen to all sides."
Take a few minutes, if you can, and listen to Macia's argument. Politics aside, it's hard not to be moved by his drive and dedication to the issue, not to mention his will to live. You can't help but hope he keeps fighting.
Legislative adjournment? Ha! It's ain't over till the fat lady sings — by which we mean those svelte legislative leaders, Shap Smith and John Campbell.
Here's what's happening in Vermont news and politics this week — sure to be the last of the legislative session. Got a newsworthy event for next week's calendar? Email by Friday to submit.
Monday, May 13
The Legislature couldn't wrap it up on Saturday as planned, which means lawmakers are back in Montpelier for another two days. The House hits the floor at 10 a.m. to take up the latest versions of several bills, including marijuana decriminalization and physician-assisted death-with-dignicide. The Senate's on at 10, too.
Congressman Peter Welch is in Vermont today and at 12:30 p.m. he'll be making a "business visit" to the Alchemist Cannery in Waterbury. When you can't find any Heady Topper on the shelf this week, you'll know who to blame.
In Burlington, there's a Board of Finance meeting at 5 p.m. in city hall conference room 12, followed by a city council budget work session at 6.
He's a regular on daytime cable news shows, but Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) finally hit the big time this weekend: He was featured on NBC's "Saturday Night Live."
Or, at least, his name was.
The show's opening segment parodied last week's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearings on the Benghazi attacks. The sketch featured an overzealous chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), calling as witnesses convicted boyfriend-killer Jodi Arias and accused Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro.
Which was kind of weird — and not all that funny.
Odder still, the two members of Congress sitting on either side of Issa — identified in the script and captions as Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) — sat behind name-plates reading "Rep. Doc Hastings" and "Rep. Peter Welch."
Updated with comment from City Attorney Eileen Blackwood
Negotiations aimed at settling CitiCapital’s $33.5 million lawsuit against Burlington Telecom have collapsed, Mayor Miro Weinberger said on Saturday.
The two sides proved unable to reach an out-of-court agreement in talks that got underway in January. BT and Citi met for only a single two-day negotiating session. They did not hold a second round of talks in March, as had earlier been scheduled, the mayor disclosed in an interview in Battery Park during Kids' Day celebrations.
“It didn’t make sense to continue those talks,” Weinberger said, declining to specify the reasons for the breakdown. Because the dispute remains in litigation, the mayor said it would be improper for him to comment in detail.
The battle for control of the telecom network equipment leased to BT by CitiCapital thus returns to federal court in Burlington for adjudication of the lawsuit filed 20 months ago, after BT ceased making payments on its lease agreement.
The Weinberger administration had hoped to negotiate a deal with Citi that would clear the way for BT to be sold to private interests or to a co-op that some Burlington residents are forming. No buyer is likely to take the financially troubled utility off local taxpayers’ hands until the fight with CitiCapital is resolved. The New York-based creditor wants to be paid $33.5 million it says it is owed for the fiber-optic system or
have the court order return of BT's infrastructure.
BT has been making small monthly payments to Citi, but at the current pace, it would take decades to cover the full amount.
It could also take more than a year for the court battle to be decided.
“We will continue to do everything we can to defend the taxpayers against further BT
liability,” Weinberger said.