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August 2008

August 27, 2008

Dem. Convention: From the Press Center

Let_ralph_debate_2 Ed. note: Seven Days writer Kevin J. Kelley will be blogging this week from the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

And now for some convention color from last night:

I'm blogging this evening from a huge press filing center in an obscure corner of the Pepsi Center. There are maybe 100 reporters hunched over laptops and chattering into cellphones as I write. The place actually looks to be a sometimes-basketball court — there are hoops with fiberglass backboards at both ends of this space.

I got onto the convention floor earlier this eve for the first time. It isn't easy — unless you're a mainstream media Big Foot — to obtain one of the green floor passes whose distribution point is treated by the Democratic National Committee as top-secret info. It's chaotic on the floor in a merry sort of way — lots of noise, colors, constant movement in every direction by delegates, pols, press and whoever else has managed to get to the center of the action.

The Recreate 68 protest coalition hasn't produced much in the way of crowds or excitement so far. The demonstrators can't get within a quarter-mile of the Pepsi Center so they march through downtown Denver on a regular basis. A typical demo includes only about 200 participants. Meanwhile, the Denver cops ride around in full riot regalia on the running boards of SUVs or they tromp through the streets atop horses that are also wearing shield-type goggles. It's a totally disproportionate show of force and clearly an attempt to intimidate dissidents from exercising their all-American right to free speech.

A bunch of 20-something McCainiacs showed up this afternoon at a park where rock bands were serenading an assortment of Obama supporters and others who are well to the left of the Dem prez candidate. I expected a confrontation — at least a shouting match — but nothing developed in the 20 mins. I was there. Denver is an infectiously mellow city, even in its moment at the center of the political universe.

The photo shows an inflatable Liberty Bell displayed in a Denver park. It calls for Ralph Nader to be included in the presidential debates with Barack Obama and John McCain.

Dem. Convention: Down Home with Leahy in Denver

Ed. note: Seven Days writer Kevin J. Kelley will be blogging this week from the Democratic National Convention in Denver.Dnc_014

The floor of the Democratic Convention was maybe one-quarter full when Sen Patrick Leahy gave a 10-min speech on Tuesday at 4 p.m., long before prime time. The three rows occupied by the Vermont delegation were filled, however. Howard Dean was among the listeners, as was Congressman Peter Welch.

Vermont's senior senator (that's him on the right with wife Marcelle) was cheered enthusiastically as he spoke — not about the civil liberties abuses of the Bush years, the theme with which he is most closely identified — but on the topic of Rural America.

Here's the senator's opening lines:

"I'm Patrick Leahy. I live on a dirt road in a town of 1800 in Vermont. I know rural America."

And his close:

"When Barack Obama is president, we can once again look with hope to a prosperous new day for our rural communities, from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to the Green Mountains of Vermont."

Howard_dean_tim_briglin_peter_welch In between, Leahy deplored the impact of high energy prices on rural areas, accused John McCain of being as cozily in bed with Big Oil as has been George Bush, warned of rising crime in the countryside, called for high-speed Internet access throughout the Heartland, and assured his listeners that Obama's policies are superior to McCain's in every way that's relevant to rural America.

August 26, 2008

Billboard-Free

Teds_ash1 Friends and family of the late Ted Riehle recently gathered on his beloved Savage Island for a final salute to the author of Vermont's anti-billboard law. The event had Riehle written all over it, from the sanctioned skinny dipping to the ash-sprinkling fly-over. The celebration was dubbed, appropriately, "Spread Ted."

They just don't make em like "Big Ted" anymore — an eccentric, nudist Republican who was living off the grid way before the term "energy-efficient" was coined. I got to know Riehle while I was profiling him for Seven Days. He was a compelling "subject" who quickly became a friend. Here's my initial take on him.

My final take: He would have appreciated the stunt factor of being released from a plane — Riehle was a pilot — along the west coast of Savage on a beautiful summer day.

Photo by Matthew Thorsen.

Groundwater Update

Water Back in February, I wrote a Seven Days cover story about Vermont's bottled water industry and the impact it may be having on the state's groundwater resources. Part of my piece focused on the Montpelier Spring Water Company, a bottled-water firm that is seeking to withdraw water from a spring that belongs to its CEO.

That story, to my mind, seemed timely for several reasons. In December 2007, Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) had held what were likely the first-ever congressional hearings on groundwater impacts. Disputes between bottled-water companies and citizen activists were bubbling up around the county. And Vermont legislators were considering S.304, a bill that sought to make groundwater a "public trust" resource and establish groundwater-withdrawal limits (Governor Jim Douglas signed it into law on June 9.)

In an August 20 story, "Bottling Plan Pushes Groundwater to Center Stage in Vermont,"  New York Times reporter Felicity Barringer — who visited Burlington last winter to interview local author Bill McKibben about his climate-change advocacy work — put East Montpelier's groundwater issues on the national stage. "With the growing recognition that groundwater is not limitless, more states and localities are looking for ways to protect it," Barringer wrote. "Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Hampshire are at the forefront of this trend, and Vermont is now making its move."

Carolyn Shapiro, a neighbor who is opposed to the bottling project, appreciated the Times story. Barringer had interviewed her, but Shapiro wasn't sure she'd be quoted. "I thought she wanted to do a more general piece," Shapiro told me recently, "but she ended up talking quite a bit about Vermont."

Here are some local details that didn't make the Times' cut:

  1. State officials told me in March that East Montpelier's groundwater moratorium may not be legally enforceable.
  2. This spring, according to East Montpelier Zoning Administrator Bruce Johnson, the Montpelier Spring Water Company filed a source-water permit with Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources.
  3. After Gov. Douglas signed S.304 into law on June 9, East Montpelier's town plan was amended to acknowledge the legislation's passage.
  4. A few weeks ago, East Montpelier Planning Commission proposed revisions to town zoning ordinances that would place restrictions on groundwater extractions.

"That little issue is preliminary," Johnson said yesterday in reference to proposed changes, "but if what has been proposed ends up being adopted, it's a pretty good controlling mechanism for things like groundwater withdrawal." Johnson expects the East Montpelier Selectboard to vote on the zoning revisions this fall. 

Dem. Convention: Vermont is America

Dnc_026 Ed. note: Seven Days writer Kevin J. Kelley will be blogging this week from the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Think what you will of the Democratic Party's competence and consistency, there's no denying its commitment to — and achievement of — racial diversity. About 45 percent of the delegates in Denver are African-, Latino-, or Asian-American, while those same groups represent about 30 percent of the overall US population.

Inside the convention hall, a genuinely rainbow-style celebration is occurring, with a fine funk orchestra providing the soundtrack. Of course the Dems are nominating a bi-racial candidate for president. And they're also highlighting the party's mosaic in the line-up of convention speakers, from the obscure to the superstarry. Chicago Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. gave one of the most rousing speeches on last night's program, which Michelle Obama headlined and which also included her half-Indonesian sister-in-law.

Vermont's delegation isn't nearly as multiracial as, say, California's. But VT Dems have sent a contingent to Denver that's far from monochromatic, as was evident at a breakfast gathering on Monday at the Magnolia Hotel, where the state's 27 delegates and alternates are staying, along with assorted spouses and kids.

Kevin Christie, an Obama delegate, is an African-American from White River Junction who's running for a seat in the Vermont House. Having moved from Connecticut in the early 70s, Christie's come to see Vt as "still not having achieved equity throughout the state." But he adds that Vermont's problems "aren't overpowering to the point where they can't be changed." Christie finds Vermont "open-minded enough to say 'what can we do to change?'"

Former Governor Madeleine Kunin, who's here secondarily to promote her book on women and American politics, (she's also blogging for the Huffington Post) points with pride to the gender equity that not only the VT delegation, but all delegations, have established in accordance with party rules.

Daria Mondesire, an African-American from Derby Line, says it's important to understand that the candidate she's supporting, Barack Obama, isn't himself African-American. "He's of mixed race," Mondesire points out. "Like my daughter."

Mondesire, a writer and clinical social worker, moved from Boston's Dorchester section more years ago than she wishes to specify in order to attend Bennington College. "I've had a mixed experience in Vermont," she says. "But it's been generally positive and I can say Vermont's been good to me."

The state's Dems haven't done enough to ensure geographic diversity, Mondesire complains. She says the delegation here consists mostly of Chittenden and Washington county residents, with few members from rural parts of the state. "People from small towns in Vermont don't have much chance," she says. "They don't have the political muscle." Noting that she's the first-ever Democratic delegate from Orleans County, Mondesire says she'll work to improve representation for rural Vermonters.

Dnc_008 VT's delegates do span the generations. Kunin, 75, is joined in Denver by Taylor Bates, 18 (see photo). He graduated in June from Champlain Valley Union HS and is headed to Tufts next month.

Taylor's known here not only for his teen-ness but for having ensured that VT was one of the first three states to qualify as having a "green delegation." Out of his own pocket (he's hoping to fundraise later) Taylor made a $7.50 investment in alt energy for each of the 27 delegation members in order to offset the emissions associated with their travel to and from Denver.

Taylor says he appreciates efforts to include previously under-represented groups at the Denver convention, but he suggests that the Obama campaign "is about ending the politics of identity." Taylor isn't interested in being "a token young person here" and wants to focus on ideas rather than on skin shades or gender. He also wants to learn skills in Denver in order to "become a better Democrat, a better organizer."

Peter Welch and Bernie Sanders are scheduled to address the VT delegation in the next couple of days. I'll be there when they do and I'll tell you what they said.

August 25, 2008

Dem. Convention: Rednecks for Obama

Dnc_004 Ed. note: Seven Days writer Kevin J. Kelley will be blogging this week from the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Here's another photo from Kevin.

Dem. Convention: Photos

Dnc_014 Ed. note: Seven Days writer Kevin J. Kelley will be blogging this week from the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Dnc_015_2 Kevin just sent these photos, with the following captions:

The orange-suited demonstrators represented Guantanamo prisoners at a march along Denver's pedestrian mall this afternoon. (Monday). Chant: "No torture, no war, that's what we're fighting for!"

Dnc_011 The three seated figures are, left to right, Congresswoman Barbara Lee from Oakland, Calif; health care for all activist Richard Kim and Congressman John Conyers from Detroit. They were speaking this aft at a forum organized by Progressive Democrats of America and The Nation magazine as part of a weeklong series of events at a Denver church meant to highlight issues of concern to left-wing Democrats.

War Photographs, Then and Now

96x150pingreesm Earlier this month, I traveled to Danville, a beautiful town located on Route 2 between Montpelier and St. Johnsbury, to report a story about Howard Coffin, an ex-Rutland Herald reporter (and former Senator Jim Jeffords press secretary) who is traveling to every town in the state in search of Vermont Civil War lore. So when I arrived in the office this morning, I was particularly interested in an email from the Vermont Historical Society announcing a new online collection of Civil War photographs. The photos, featuring 859 of the 1363 Vermonters who served as officers in the Civil War, once hung in the Vermont State House, according to VHS.

Since war appears to be something of a recurring phenomenon, images of one war inevitably recall images of another. In that gloomy spirit, I just browsed a few websites featuring photographs of the Iraq War. One page, on the official U.S. Army site, showcases the kinds of photos you see in . . . Army press materials. Another, on the website Afterdowningstreet.org, features gruesome photos of Iraqi victims that you would never see in mainstream newspapers.

Almost five years ago, the Bush administration prohibited the media from photographing flag-draped coffins — to the eventual dismay of Military Families Speak Out and other anti-war groups. But on July 30, House Rep Walter B. Jones (R-NC) introduced the "Fallen Hero Commemoration Act," a bill that would require the Department of Defense to allow "accredited members of the media" to attend memorial services for active-duty members of the Armed Forces. The bill appears to be a recapitulation of a January 2007 House resolution by Democrat Charles Rangel of New York.

"The legislation is significant," Daryl Lang wrote recently on the photography site Photo District News, "because it would, for the first time since Vietnam, let photojournalists capture the powerful images of flag-draped caskets arriving on American soil during wartime." For more background on Bush administration-sanctioned censorship of Iraq war images, check out this blog post by Guardian writer Dan Kennedy. Or this one, by Huffington Post blogger Ruth Hochberger.

Does Democrat Peter Welch, Vermont's lone House Rep, support Jones' bill? I'm going to query his peeps after finishing this post — stay tuned.

(Photo from the VHS online gallery — Lt. Col. Stephen M. Pingree)

Dem. Convention: Recreate 68 on Fox News

Ed. note: Seven Days writer Kevin J. Kelley will be blogging this week from the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Here's a video of yesterday's "peaceful" Recreate 68 march Kevin wrote about earlier. Fox News reporter Griff Jenkins waded into the march asking protesters to explain their motives. It looked to me like he just wanted to incite them so he could catch them on tape.

No punches were thrown, but the crowd did start chanting "Fuck Fox News."

Goss Dodge Mopar Muscle Car Event

Christine and I checked out the Goss Dodge Mopar Muscle Car event this past Saturday August 23rd in South Burlington. They had about 15 classic cars and a bunch of the newly built Challengers and Chargers that merge a retro look with modern engineering.

I was especially interested in the Challenger which is new for 2008. It's not an inexpensive car starting at $40,095, but one that has been appreciated by the industry for its performance. It's a damn nice car. I want one.

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