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February 2009

February 27, 2009

UVM Student Reps on Budget Crisis

IMG_2301 The Burlington Free Press and the Vermont Cynic, a University of Vermont campus newspaper, have informative articles on their websites today about yesterday's well-attended budget forum at Ira Allen Chapel. (Read the articles here and here.) But neither article quotes the two UVM students who gave formal remarks.

The first student speaker was Clint Jasperson, president of UVM's Graduate Student Senate. Reading from a laptop, Jasperson praised president Dan Fogel's leadership, but said he is worried about how staff layoffs could affect academic quality in the long term.

"We have reached a time when critical and constructive criticism is needed to move forward as a community," said Jasperson. "The unrest that is occurring in our community focused on salaries, bonuses and job losses is unsettling to say the least."

Later — after three faculty and staff speakers peppered Fogel with blistering criticism — Jay Taylor, president of UVM's Student Government Association, opened his speech on a diplomatic note: "Nothing is ever black and white," he began. "More than ever, it is important to seek out the full story, seek to understand, and seek thoughtful efforts of change."

Taylor added that he takes issue with the content and timing of a recent press release from UVM's faculty union, United Academics. Then he claimed university administrators could have managed funds more "conservatively." (When Taylor mentioned staff layoffs, a few audience members hissed, and the cavernous chapel felt a little bit like an English football stadium.)

"All I ask," Taylor added, "is that we work together and resist jumping to conclusions before we ask the questions and seek out the information."

For another student perspective on the UVM budget controversy, see this new Cynic editorial titled, "Remember to Breathe."

So long, Rocky Mountain News

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

The Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado, published its final issue today. The 149-year-old daily, owned by E.W. Scripps, Co., was one of two in Denver. Jim Hopkins at Gannett Blog notes that it's the largest-circulation daily to close its doors in the current "newspaper-industry crisis."

Staffer Matthew Roberts produced this fantastic 20-minute video about the Rocky's final days. I feel sorry for these guys, but I'm also optimistic about the future of journalism in general. It's going to be a rocky few years, though, pardon the pun. I think we're going to see a lot more of this, particularly from dailies.

Incidentally, I wrote a story last month about how the crisis is affecting the Burlington Free Press. So far, they're still alive and kickin'. Us, too.

Burlington Election Predictions

In Montpelier yesterday, while the day's news was all about the Democratic budget framework for dealing with the state's fiscal crisis, more people in the lunchroom wanted to talk about who might win the Queen City election.

I have a few thoughts on how the vote may go down Tuesday night, and I'll share them below. A disclaimer: I hate to call these predictions, because it would infer I have some form of arcane analytical tool at my disposal — internal polls, tea leaves, or the secret messages left by underpants gnomes. No such luck.

Consider what I'm about to offer you as guesses, pure and simple. Because when it comes down to it, voters tend to have minds of their own when they get into the ballot box. Go figure.

This week's "Fair Game" column looked at the historical possibility that the Democrats could get either working majority (seven Democrats) or an outright majority (at least eight seats) on the 14-member city council. If by luck they nab the mayor's office, too, it'll be quite a turnaround since the Progressive revolution of the early 80s.

I do believe the Dems will pick up one council seat, most likely in Ward 7 with Eli-Lesser Goldsmith although former councilor Ellie Blais (a Democrat turned independent) could also win. Either way, the Democrats gain an advantage here. The closeness of this race could also force a run-off.

I think the Progs are safe in Ward 2 with newcomer Emma Mulvaney-Stanak vying for the seat left vacant by outgoing Prog Jane Knodell. Her Democratic challenger Nicole Pelletier got a late start and that will hurt her chances in the end. The Progressives' get out the vote (GOTV) effort is strong in this ward and bodes well for Mulvaney-Stanak.

Marrisa Caldwell is also likely to hold on to outgoing councilor Tim Ashe's seat in Ward 3. As a school commissioner in the ward, she has a base of support already and is a known elected quantity. Her Democratic challenger, Democrat David Cain, is making a stronger effort than their previous candidates and will make a strong showing. He's definitely a face to watch.

In Ward 4, Republican Eleanor Briggs Kenworthy is likely to hold onto this GOP seat being vacated by  Kurt Wright, who is running for mayor. Her Democratic challenger is Nancy Kaplan.

Democrats in Wards 5 & 6 — Joan Shannon and Mary Kehoe respectively — are facing challenges from the Green Party. Shannon is running for reelection in Ward 6, and Kehoe is vying for the seat being vacated by Democrat Andy Montroll, who is running for mayor. Both should win easily.

In Ward 1, incumbent Sharon Bushor is also facing opposition from the Green Party, but no one from a major party. She's well-liked and has a strong base of support. She'll win easily.

Now, if you look at this possible mix of councilors one other important aspect of the new council comes clear — there could be seven, possibly eight, women on the council. I'll start looking back at past councils, but I think this could easily be the most women on the council at one time.

Politically, this would be a council that leans Democratic (or has a Democratic majority), which could spell trouble for some department heads. As I heard from a few politicos yesterday, Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold, and other Kiss appointees, could find for some rough sledding come confirmation time, no matter who is mayor-elect come Wednesday morning.

But, it may all depend on who is the next mayor. So, let's cut to the chase.

Here are the candidates: Incumbent Progressive Bob Kiss, Republican Wright, Democrat Montroll, Independent Dan Smith, and Green James Simpson.

Here is one scenario of Tuesday night's outcome:

Continue reading "Burlington Election Predictions" »

February 26, 2009

UVM Organizer: 400+ Vermont Students Traveling to D.C. Climate Conference

DSC_0036 478 Vermont college students are going to Washington D.C. this week for the Power Shift '09 youth climate summit. That's according to Jessica Serrante, an Environmental Studies major at the University of Vermont. In a phone interview, Serrante tells Seven Days that the state ranks 6th nationwide for Power Shift enrollment. (The conference website doesn't list enrollment stats.)

Power Shift, which was first organized in 2007 by the advocacy group Energy Action, is an annual gathering of young people concerned about climate change. This year's conference, held from February 27 to March 2, comes days after President Barack Obama asked Congress to draft legislation that would  establish market-based caps on carbon dioxide emissions. Power Shift organizers expect 10,000 attendees, and a blogger from claims Power Shift will inspire the "biggest lobby day on climate and green jobs in U.S. history."

According to the Power Shift '09 website, conference organizers aim to:

  • Push the new administration and Congress to pass bold, comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

  • Prepare our leaders and our movement for the international climate negotiations in December 2009 where we will help build and ratify a strong global climate agreement — one that allows all communities to participate and benefit.

  • Develop a comprehensive strategy for continued political pressure and accountability and a shared vision to facilitate the development and implementation of individual and group action plans for local, state and national campaigns.

  • Strengthen the bonds between diverse youth constituencies while we train and empower each other with the skills needed to create one movement that tackles climate change, environmental injustice, and economic failure.

  • Connect with fellow organizers and build community to build our power and sustain our own involvement for the long-term.

  • Understand the magnitude of both the challenges and opportunities presented by the climate crisis and explore our own capacities to

"The conference is pretty symbolic of our generation realizing that clean energy and green jobs are going to have to be part of our future," Serrante explains. Last year's Power Shift conference, adds the 20-year-old activist, inspired a campus campaign in which UVM students lobbied administrators to source sustainably harvested toilet paper; Serrante says this year's conference may inform a collaboration with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

Photo courtesy of Basil Tsimoyianis.

Explaining The Credit Crisis

Jonathan Jarvis recently posted this great video on Vimeo explaining the credit crisis visually. It does a fantastic job explaining the "process" the financial system followed to get us all in this mess.
The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

February 25, 2009

Vermont's "News Guy" on his New News Site

Jon Margolis As Shay Totten reported in December, Vermont has a new news website: Started in December by veteran reporter (and occasional Seven Days contributor) Jon Margolis, the site is designed to provide the kind of "old-fashioned" journalism that, according to Margolis, Vermont sorely lacks.

(For an old-fashioned kind of guy, Margolis seems to be making decent use of the social media tools Facebook and Twitter.)

On Monday, Margolis had an essay (dispatch?) on the website of the D.C.-based Committee of Concerned Journalists, a consortium of media types who are "worried about the future of the profession." (Read CCJ's 1997 manifesto here.) Titled "When Real News Didn't Come to Me, I Decided to Go Get it Myself," Margolis' piece explains how his site got off the ground, and where it might be headed.

"My posts are analytical, often breezy and funny (or so I hope), idiosyncratic," noted the Barton blogger. "But it is the analysis and judgment of a disinterested observer, not a partisan or an ideologue."

Vote for David Sirota!

F-bookreview-sirota We got an email plea from syndicated columnist and author David Sirota today asking for our help in persuadng MSNBC to hire him as a host for a vacated 10 p.m. slot. I'm going to paste his email here, as he explains it better than anyone else. Btw, David is also a former aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders (before he was a senator). He came to Vermont last year on a book tour for The Uprising, which then-7D news editor Brian Wallstin wrote about.


Last month, the New York Times ran a story about MSNBC looking for a
host to fill its open 10pm time-slot and many of you encouraged me to
apply for the job after seeing me on programs like The Rachel Maddow
Show, Bill Moyers Journal and The Colbert Report. Of course, I didn't
really know what that meant - after all, how the heck do you "apply"
for a TV show? Well, today, my friend and fellow writer
Chris Bowers launched a formal campaign to ask MSNBC to consider me
for the slot, and now I'm asking for your help - and the good news
is, I'm not asking you for money, I'm just asking you to take 1
minute of your time to send an email, join a Facebook group and tell
all your friends to do the same.

Continue reading "Vote for David Sirota!" »

The Sex Issue

Stimuluspackage-guy This week Seven Days published our own "stimulus package" — the results of our biennial sex survey. Yowsa.

Check out Pamela Polston's steamy summary here. Don't miss Margot Harrison's write-up about on-screen sex scenes, and Paula Routly's review of respondents' memorable sexual experiences.

We also commissioned a few sex-themed stories for the issue.

That'll warm you up on a cold winter's day...

February 24, 2009

RETN / Comcast Ink Funding Deal

The growing battle between telecom giant Comcast and the small non-profit Regional Educational Technology Network (RETN) is cooling off — for now.

The two sides, yesterday, successfully negotiated in principle a short-term funding agreement. They hope to have a signed agreement by Friday.

As first reported in “Fair Game” three weeks ago, Comcast has criticized RETN and other providers of Public Educational and Governmental (PEG) services before the PSB and in the public arena. Comcast claims that RETN has mismanaged and misspent the money Comcast is required to give back to communities for the right to use the public airwaves. State and federal law enables Vermont to make cable companies use 5 percent of their gross revenues to finance this kind of programming.

RETN and other PEG channels claim Comcast is trying to find ways to cut its operating costs, and hopes to wriggle out from PEG funding requirements by manufacturing problems. Comcast has explicitly stated that it does not believe PEG channels should spend money on websites and other emerging technology to deliver services to residents.

Yesterday's deal allows RETN to continue providing educational access services and programming while the two sides resolve Comcast's complaints about RETN. Comcast brought has petitioned the state Public Service Board, trying to back out of its two contracts with RETN.

The exact wording of the stipulated agreement has not been finalized. However, RETN officials said both parties have agreed to proceed with an “agreed-upon procedures” report (rather than an audit) performed by an independent accounting firm. RETN also agreed to several new financial reporting measures and to temporarily grant Comcast approval authority over certain capital expenditures.

Continue reading "RETN / Comcast Ink Funding Deal" »

Best Bites: Sakura Sushi & Kitchen

Winter 2009 131 Sakura Sushi & Kitchen
19 Taft Corners Shopping Center, Williston, 288-8052

By Alice Levitt

Growing up near New York City, my family shopped at a grocery store in Yonkers called Meiji-ya almost as much as much as at our local supermarket. In Vermont, the only place (besides my home) where I can get my Japanese home- cooking fix is Sakura. So, still not sated after making some yakisoba the previous night, James and I headed off to Williston.

A grocery as well as restaurant, Sakura has a selection of Japanese soft drinks, including my childhood staple, Ramuné ($1.90). The glass bottle is sealed with a marble, and comes with a plunger to free the clear, sugary drink.

The sushi is always fresh, creative and unpretentious, but that night, we warmed up admirably with some good ol' stick-to-your-ribs cookin'. I started with the vegetable croquette curry ($6.99), a bundle of mashed potatoes, carrots, peas and corn, deep-fried and slathered in the mild curry gravy which I consider my lifeblood. James began with a plate of gyoza ($4.25), pork and cabbage dumplings, with a refreshingly zingy vinegared soy sauce.

Next James went for the unagidon ($6.99), a bowl of rice covered with tender and slightly crispy, but very clean-tasting eel in a light teriyaki sauce. I was in the mood for some thick, bouncy udon and chose the beef noodles ($8.25). The broth was sweetly meaty, like a pho, but with the slight brine added by bonito flakes. Chunks of sweet and tangy Korean-style beef rested on top. When munching at Sakura I'll often get the beef sans soup, with rice and a side salad ($10.99).

It's just like my imaginary Japanese mama used to make.

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