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March 2009

March 31, 2009

Fission fatigue: No nukes activist Helen Caldicott to visit VT


Seven Days just learned that one of the most renowned antinuclear activists is speaking in Vermont next week. Over the last 40 years, Dr. Helen Caldicott, whom Seven Days profiled in November 2005, has hobnobbed with some of the most powerful leaders in the world as part of her ongoing struggle to rid the planet of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Needless to say, the activist/physician's work remains far from completed. In fact, she calls our current age "the most dangerous age ever." Dr. Caldicott's talks are compelling, insightful and devastatingly on-target. Plus, as I discovered during my interview with her three-plus years ago, she's incredibly warm and friendly in person, despite the apocalyptic nature of her subject matter. Indeed, beyond the doom and gloom, she offers something in all too short supply these days: hope.

The Nobel-Prize-nominated scientist and activist speaks at Middlebury College's Bicentennial Hall at 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 7, then later that day at the Barnes & Noble in South Burlington. The following day, Dr. Caldicott signs books and meets the public at UVM's Davis Center bookstore from 4 to 5 p.m., followed by a talk in the Grand Maple Ballroom. On Thursday, April 9, Caldicott will be in Montpelier and Brattleboro, locations TBA. Be sure to catch one of these talks! 

Vermont Senate Considers "E-Waste" Legislation

It's been a trashy month for the news media. First the New York Times reported on March 11 that China, the "world's largest" garbage importer, is refusing trash from American and European "waste dealers." Then the New Yorker magazine published "Trash Queen," about a Chinese paper-making tycoon whose fortunes have fallen in recent months because of the global recession.

Vermont newspapers are also weighing in on waste trends. Louis Porter wrote in the March 14 Times Argus that "Vermont is a long way from China, but the economic slide hitting that country's manufacturers is having an impact on Vermont's recycling programs." The Burlington Free Press reported on March 30 that the Chittenden Solid Waste District will soon raise its per-ton solid waste management free from $17.61 to $22.06.

Against this backdrop, the Vermont Senate is considering S.77, a bill that would require manufacturers to "implement and fund a system for the collection and recycling of electronic devices." S.77 is a legislative priority for the newly formed Vermont Product Stewardship Council. The council's coordinator, Jen Holliday, tells me in an email that she hopes the bill will pass on the Senate floor tomorrow.

One of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Virginia "Ginny" Lyons (D-Chittenden), sponsored an "e-waste" bill last year that drew criticism from Chinese officials. WWBSTT? (What will Beijing say this time?)

Incidentally, if you'd like to dispose of your own e-waste, take it to South Burlington High School's parking lot on Saturday, April 18. Small Dog Electronics is sponsoring their 3rd annual e-waste recycling drive. They're accepting old electronics equipment from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. They'll take everything but household appliances. But don't try to bring them your business computers — it's a residential-only collection.

Jon Stewart at UVM

Tds_stewart_m4 I had the immense pleasure of seeing Jon Stewart speak at Patrick Gymnasium at the University of Vermont on Saturday, March 28.  It was a mixture of stand-up, commentary, and interaction with the audience.

Here are some highlights:

  • He made several good-natured jabs at liberal Burlington, including the observations that "the entire town seems to made of natural fiber and beard hair" and "your whole town is like a contact high."  He also says, "Your homeless people are so nice.  I saw one this morning and said, 'Do you want a dollar?'.  He said, 'No, man, do you want one?'."
  • Stewart has tackled gay marriage many times on his show, so he commented about our current news on the issue, including a couple of choice words about Governor Jim Douglas. But his most apt comment was simple and to the point: "I have one thing to say about opponents of gay marriage:  THEY'RE WRONG."  [If you would like to hear a more elaborate articulation of his views on gay marriage, check out his most recent interview with Mike Huckabee.]
  • In related comments, he noted how the extremes in society seem to be the loudest even though moderates are the majority: "The extremes have time and energy; moderates have shit to do."
  • One of the most touching segments was when he talked about his children, and though he acknowledges the ups and downs of parenthood, he admires children's "pure joy and exuberance," noticing how when his son "sees something he recognizes, he dances."
  • If you've been paying attention to the recent kerfuffle between Jon Stewart and CNBC, he briefly addressed the flack he caught about his interview of Jim Cramer, noting how he explained at the time that this wasn't just about Cramer, but about the failings of financial journalism on a large scale. However, the media "decided to make a fight out of it. They have to turn it into sport because if they think about what they are actually doing, they'll cry."
  • Another observation on the failings of some televised journalism: "They shouldn't call it 'the news.'  They should call it 'we have cameras.'"
  • Near the end, someone asked him what he was proudest of about his career.  His response: "That I tried it."
  • Another person asked what he thinks about the younger generation and what we can do to help.  He replied, "I'm not worried about this generation. You guys are way more informed and enthusiastic than I ever was at that age.  I say we give it all to you now.  What are you going to do?  Start a war and tank the economy?"

I am a devoted watcher of The Daily Show and consider Jon Stewart to be not only hilarious and insightful but also a genuine person. I found his optimism sprinkled among the satire to be inspiring. Despite my adoration, I think there is room for conversation about his dual role as media outsider/insider and what his humor adds to cultural and political debates. For example, I thought his brilliant takedown of Jim Cramer expressed valid points and was not just a rage-fueled rant nor a loss of humor or perspective, as some pundits have stated [warning — link is to Tucker Carlson].

Any readers at the show and have other observations or opinions?

Tuesday Link Dump

Hey Blurt readers, this is Kara, the new intern at Seven Days. You'll see me popping up with random posts around here on occasion. Today I'll treat you to some links from various blogs in our Vermont Blog Directory.  Enjoy!

  • New to Facebook?  Or simply want to know more about it?  Here's Patrick Duffy and a Crab to explain it to you:  H/T to Candleboy.
  • Like both LOLCATS and classy literature?  Put those two together.  Take Digital Digressions' challenge to create your own LOL-Novel.
  • Fake 45th posts about Rough Francis' recent tribute show in Winooski to the 70s punk band Death; includes a link to a New York Times article on the show and a video from Monkey House.
  • Keep up with Vermont stimulus money news on Tom Evslin's blog Fractals of Change. Evslin is Vermont's new "Recovery Czar."
  • Ma Vie en Vert presents a video on the history of gardening at the White House.

Have a great Tuesday!

Hey, Paul Krugman, Where Are You?

Here's a video in honor of this week's Money Issue of Seven Days, which hits the racks tomorrow. It's from prolific singer-songwriter Jonathan Mann, who posts a new music video to YouTube every day. Every day. Which might explain why his choruses aren't catchier.

Today's song is about Jerry Springer. There was one a week ago about saving newspapers. In this one from March 17, Mann asks why the Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Krugman isn't involved in the Obama administration in some way. Here's an excerpt:

Timothy Geithner is like some little weasel.
And wasn't he in a position of power when all this shit went down in the first place?
When I listen to you, things seem to make sense.
When I listen to him, all I hear is BLAH BLAH BLAH.
Hey Paul Krugman, where the hell are ya man?
Cause we need you on the front lines, not just writin' for the New York Times.

As of this morning, the video containing this timely little tune had been viewed more than 155,000 times on YouTube.

Thanks, Judith, for the tip.

March 27, 2009

VIDEO: Marriage Rally at the Statehouse

I was at the marriage equality rally this morning at the Statehouse in Montpelier, along with Shay Totten. Instead of taking notes, I used my Flip camera to interview a few of the people who attended.

Man, it was hot in the Cedar Creek Room. I've never seen so many people packed in there. Shay guessed there were about 300 people. It was hard for me to do any kind of head count, crushed as I was against a back wall.

These short videos are unedited — I just downloaded them directly from my camera onto my computer, and posted them to YouTube.

I managed to talk with Bradley Holt, owner of Found Line, a web design firm in Burlington, Pam Misener, a board member of the Samara Foundation, Erin Moreau who was one of the few supporters who had a private audience with the governor, and Sandi Cote-Whitaker. She was also in on the meeting with the governor.

You might recognize Cote-Whitaker from this ad, which has been running on local TV. I heard it as a radio spot this morning on my way to Montpelier.

In the final video, I interviewed Dr. Chuck Saleen, of Vermont Dental Care. He wasn't there for the marriage rally — he was part of a group that was at the statehouse to talk with lawmakers about funding for the Medicaid dental program. He was giving away toothbrushes, and graciously agreed to be interviewed. Read more about him in this Seven Days story from 2006.

Hundreds Rally in Support of Same-Sex Marriage

More than 300 people crammed into a ceremonial room next to Republican Gov. Jim Douglas' statehouse office this morning to loudly protest his plan to veto a same-sex marriage bill currently being considered in the House.

The marriage equality bill sailed through the Senate Monday on a 26-4 vote, a margin that surprised even backers of the measure.

Supporters timed their 9 a.m. rally to coincide with the governor's weekly, half-hour Legislative open door, where lawmakers have a chance to sit and chat with the governor. The event was canceled yesterday, but Douglas did meet with a small group of same-sex marriage supporters.

One of those people in the meeting was Beth Robinson, a founder of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force. She said the meeting went well, and supporters made it clear what they though of his veto announcement.

"We were not shy about telling him that we felt disrespected by his comments, and that he did not hear our side as well as he should," said Robinson. "I think it was clear that we haven't done a good enough job to explain to him why civil unions are not equal."

Robinson said Douglas reiterated the position he outlined Wednesday, when he announced he would veto the bill if and when it reaches his desk. In that announcement, Douglas said the bill was becoming a "distraction" for lawmakers whom he believes should be more focused on fixing Vermont's economy. He also said that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman.

Despite his stance, Robinson isn't giving up hope on changing his mind.

"I don't think we could have predicted that we would have come out of the Senate with a 26-4 vote and I think that proves that we shouldn't write people off," said Robinson, "and I don't want to write this governor off."

"History is passing him by on this issue, and we want to bring him along so that one day years down the road when he can look back and feel good about his decision," added Robinson.

No word yet from the governor or his staff on how he felt the meeting went. We'll add that when it arrives.

Robinson emerged from her meeting with a handful of other supporters just as hundreds of supporters dispersed to the Statehouse cafeteria to write letters to lawmakers, members of the House Judiciary Committee and the governor.

At the rally, supporters heard from several lawmakers including President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham), Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor), House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville), and Rep. David Zuckerman (P-Burlington).

Shumlin was introduced as a "hero" on the issue, but Shumlin rejected the label, saying it as all of the people in the room who were the true heroes.

"The governor is on the wrong side of history," said Shumlin, "and we are more committed than ever to ensure this bill passes this year."

Campbell said the issue was about "humanity not homosexuality" and urged opponents to "open their hearts and their minds to see our effort as one of love."

He added that Monday was his proudest day as a legislator, a father, a husband and a Vermonter.

There will be enough votes to override Douglas' veto, Shumlin promised, adding, "We are not a distraction, we are Vermonters."

Speaker Smith asked supporters in the room to help him ensure there are enough votes (at least 100 out of 150) to pass the bill with a veto-proof majority. He debunked the governor's myth that somehow debating this issue is a "distraction."

During a recent meeting in Washington, DC, Smith said he met with colleagues from around New England and the country where same-sex marriage is being debated. "If this is such a distraction, why did New Hampshire just pass a bill," asked Smith. "If it's such a distraction why are my colleagues in Maine taking this up, and New York, and New Jersey?"

Rep. Zuckerman said there is easily 75 votes in favor of same-sex marriage in the House, up from only 22 nine years ago when they debated the passage of civil unions. He reminded people that the state has come a long way in its embrace of marriage equality.

Opponents of same-sex marriage, emboldened by Douglas' veto announcement this week, watched the rally.

Former Republican Rep. George Schiavone, one of the opponents, has been spending a lot of time in the Legislature on the issue. He's not officially lobbying for any group, but as a citizen in support of traditional marriage. When he was in the House, Schiavone was one of the leaders of an 80-member traditional marriage caucus. Members came from both the House and Senate.

March 26, 2009

State Dems Decry Douglas Veto Threat

Vermont Democrats today came out swinging against Gov. Jim Douglas' surprise announcement yesterday that he would veto the marriage equality bill currently being reviewed in the House.

The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Senate Monday by a 26-4 vote, which is a veto-proof margin. On the House side, supporters of marriage equality need at least 100 votes (out of 150 members) to sustain a veto. It's not yet clear if that many House members support the measure. There are 96 Democrats, 48 Republicans, four Progressives and two independents.

Word is under the Golden Dome that a number of Democrats in more conservative-leaning districts in Franklin, Rutland and Bennington counties are not likely to support the bill.  That means it will be a tough fight to get it passed, and House leaders may take more time reviewing the bill before putting it up for a floor vote. It was slated to hit the House floor next week, either Thursday or Friday. That may be a tough deadline to meet, according to several lawmakers.

What is clear is that the party's leadership supports same-sex marriage, including some members of the Vermont congressional delegation. Newly-elected state party chairwoman Judy Bevans said Douglas is betraying Vermont's legacy of being a civil rights leader.

"Vermont has been a leader in civil rights legislation since her founding Constitution was written and passed," said Bevans in a statement. "Governor Douglas’ statement against marriage equality suggests that he believes Vermonters will agree to his betrayal of our shared legacy."

“Vermonters have now seen the true character of Governor Jim Douglas. His narrow vision of Vermont demeans its citizens, and his willingness to exclude some Vermonters from equal treatment bodes ill for our state’s future," Bevans continued. "As long as there is inequality, this issue will not go away. When
the bill reaches his desk, the Governor should admit he has made a mistake and sign the bill or let it become law without his signature."

Bevans urged “Vermonters of all parties" to resist Douglas' veto and continue Vermont's long tradition of supporting equality.

"By supporting marriage equality, we demonstrate that we remain true Vermonters: we want equality and fairness for all our neighbors," added Bevans. "Vermont’s motto is ‘Freedom and Unity.’ We are united in supporting the freedom of all Vermonters to pursue and achieve equality.”

Douglas' move is also likely to be a hot topic of debate at Saturday night's big fundraiser — the tenth annual David W. Curtis Leadership Awards. Former Gov. Howard Dean — who signed Vermont's landmark civil unions legislation into law — will receive a special award.

The awards will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Hilton in Burlington.

Dean will be honored for his 50-state strategy, which party officials say "revolutionized the Democratic Party and led to victories at every level in states across the country."

The guest speaker will be US Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the first woman elected to the United States Senate from Missouri. She serves on the Armed Services, Commerce, Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Aging, and Indian Affairs committees.

Continue reading "State Dems Decry Douglas Veto Threat" »

Same-Sex Marriage Gathering at the Statehouse Friday a.m.

Gay marriage advocacy group Vermont Freedom to Marry is planning a gathering at the Statehouse tomorrow morning, in response to Governor Douglas' announcement yesterday that he plans to veto the same-sex marriage bill if and when it crosses his desk.

Details here. Supporters are being asked to assemble at 8:45 a.m. at the Statehouse.

Columnist Shay Totten will be covering the event. I'm headed down, too, and bringing my laptop and Flip cam.

March 25, 2009

Douglas: Odd Man Out?

Gov. Jim Douglas surprised many today by coming out (so to speak), saying that he will veto same-sex legislation if it passes the House and reaches his desk.

So much for taking the political milquetoast route many in Montpelier expected the guv to take as I pointed out in this week's column. He stands passionately for very few things, and many find it odd that he would take such a stand when even some leaders in his party — such as House Minority Leader Patti Komline (R-Dorset) — support it.

She's taken plenty of heat for it, but she firmly believes the GOP in Vermont shouldn't be on the wrong side of history on this one, or any other issue around civil rights. So has Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) who supported the measure in the Senate Judiciary Committee and again on the Senate floor.

For weeks Douglas has emphatically stated he does not support same-sex marriage and believes it a distraction for lawmakers. He'd rather see them tackling economic issues, rather than issues of civil rights, er, same-sex marriage.  However, he's been cagey on if he'd veto the bill, or let it go into law without his signature. No longer.

What is clear is that Douglas is in the minority when it comes to Vermont's elected officials when it comes to same-sex marriage.

Even a majority of Vermont's Congressional delegation supports same-sex marriage. Rep. Peter Welch (D) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) are in favor, but Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) is mum on the issue, saying he doesn't want to involve himself with the Legislature.

"While the question of whether Vermont should legalize gay marriage is a state issue, Congressman Welch does personally support legalizing gay marriage," said Paul Heintz, Welch's spokesman.

"Senator Sanders has long believed marriage is a matter of state, not federal, law. Personally, he believes in marriage equality," said Michael Briggs, Sanders' spokesman.

Unlike Douglas, and his fellow DC delegates, Leahy doesn't want his opinion to sway lawmakers' votes.

"He believes Vermont's Legislature and Governor are empowered to decide this, as the Vermont Supreme Court has clearly ruled," said David Carle, Leahy's spokesman. "His practice has always been not to tell the Vermont Legislature what it should or should not do."

That said, last month Leahy introduced the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would amend provisions in U.S. immigration law that bar US residents in same-sex relationships from using the family immigration system and sponsoring their partners.

Under current law, a US citizen is permitted to sponsor his or her spouse for a green card under the family immigration system.  The UAFA would extend this right to same-sex couples by adding “or permanent partner” to sections of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that apply to legally married couples.  Under the proposed legislation, a “permanent partner” is described as an adult who is in a committed, intimate, financially interdependent relationship with another adult in “which both parties intend a lifelong commitment.”

The mayor of Vermont's largest city — Progressive Bob Kiss — is also weighing in on the issue and asking city councilor to join him in support of same-sex marriage. He's drafted a letter calling on Chittenden County lawmakers and the guv to back the bill. May be too late on this one.

A draft version of the letter reads:

The legislation now under consideration by the Legislature to achieve marriage equality is past due. Nine years ago Vermont led the nation when it legalized civil unions for same-sex couples. Yet we continue to deny the right of marriage – for our friends, family members and constituents – to same-sex couples. Our experience in Vermont with civil unions confirms that our best and most important decisions are based on a long of history of commitment to fairness, equality, individual liberties, and civil rights.

We have an opportunity to fulfill these principles and enact real change for all the people of Vermont by passing a same-sex marriage law. We urge you all to act now and support civil marriage rights in the State of Vermont for same sex couples

The Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force is holding a rally Friday morning at the Statehouse during the time set aside for Gov. Douglas to have a legislative open door inside his ceremonial office under the Golden Dome. The open door event starts at 9 a.m.

Something tells me it may get a little crowded. Get there early if you plan to attend.

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

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