Blurt: Seven Days Staff Blog

NOTE: Blurt has been retired and is no longer updated regularly. For new content, follow these links:

OFF MESSAGE: Vermont News and Politics
BITE CLUB: Food and Drink Blog

56 posts categorized "Civil Rights" Feed

November 15, 2011

Brattleboro's Prison Legal News Featured on NPR's "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!"

-Peter-and-brian-in-jailLocal listeners of National Public Radio's Saturday-morning news and humor show, "Wait,Wait...Don't Tell Me!" may not have picked up on last Saturday's Vermont connection. Each week, host Peter Sagal invites a celebrity guest to play a game called "Not My Job," in which the celebrity is asked three questions about a topic that, presumably, he or she knows absolutely nothing about.

Last weekend's program featured Seth MacFarlane, creator of such adult cartoon hits as "Family Guy," "American Dad" and "The Cleveland Show." MacFarlane played a game NPR's Carl Kassel dubbed, "Five hours in the slammer will change a man," in which MacFarlane was asked three questions about how the wealthy are treated differently in prison than the average shmo. As Sagal noted, those questions were based on an article published in Brattleboro's Prison Legal News, called "Prison Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," by Matt Clarke.

PLN, the nation's largest and longest-running prison publication, was founded in May 1990 by journalist and prison activist Paul Wright. Wright, himself a convicted murder who has since paid his debt to society, moved to Vermont after his release in 2003. He still muckrakes about the abysmal conditions in U.S. prisons, including the pervasiveness of abuse, medical neglect, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, guard brutality and retaliation. Wright was featured in a March 7, 2007, cover story in Seven Days, called "Doing Wright." 

Continue reading "Brattleboro's Prison Legal News Featured on NPR's "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!"" »

November 03, 2011

Once a Supporter, Sen. Leahy Leads Charge to Repeal Defense of Marriage Act

DOMAHrg1The Senate Judiciary Committee today began debate on legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and replace it with something called the Respect for Marriage Act, setting the stage for a first vote on the measure next Thursday

Leading the repeal effort is U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who voted in favor of DOMA when it first passed in 1996.

At the hearing, Leahy said the Respect for Marriage Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and cosponsored by 30 senators, would restore the power of the states to define marriage "without the federal government imposing its restrictive definition of marriage on the states.

"No one can dispute that the issue of marriage has traditionally been left to the states,” said Leahy, according to a statement released by his office. "Repealing DOMA would return this power to the states where it belongs. I look forward to the repeal of DOMA. This Committee taking favorable action on this bill takes us closer to that day.”

Continue reading "Once a Supporter, Sen. Leahy Leads Charge to Repeal Defense of Marriage Act" »

October 13, 2011

UVM Policy Would Heighten Scrutiny of Presidential Spouses

UVM_Old_Mill_building_20040101The University of Vermont is one step closer to creating a first-ever policy to govern the volunteer activities of presidential spouses.

On Wednesday, a committee of UVM trustees unanimously approved a draft policy that would put stricter oversight on a president's spouse who wishes to raise money for UVM, coordinate alumni events or engage in other aspects of university life.

The policy was created as result of the revelations that the wife of former UVM President Dan Fogel — Rachel Kahn-Fogel — had a years-long relationship with a high-level UVM staffer assigned to work with her on fundraising events. Fogel stepped down from his role as president in early August, almost a year ahead of schedule.

In the wake of the news and a subsequent internal investigation, the UVM Board of Trustees created a special ad hoc committee and charged it with crafting a policy to better spell out the roles and responsibilities of the university, and the spouse, if he or she chooses to volunteer.

Chaired by Rep. Bill Botzow (D-Pownal), that committee met Wednesday afternoon in the Waterman Building and voted to bring the draft policy to the full board of trustees for a vote on the weekend of October 21-22.

"This policy provides some practical, realistic parameters for all parties so the spouse can volunteer for the university effectively," said Botzow.

Continue reading "UVM Policy Would Heighten Scrutiny of Presidential Spouses" »

October 09, 2011

Hundreds of Protesters "Occupy Burlington" During Downtown Rally (VIDEO)

IMG_3040 More than 350 people marched through downtown Burlington on Sunday afternoon in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City — the third such rally in as many weeks.

With a street band leading the procession, the throng marched from City Hall Park up Church Street to the fountain at the top block, turned around, and marched down the street again as shoppers and diners looked on — some smiling, some seemingly dumbfounded and some applauding.

Marchers chanted, "All day, all week, occupy Wall Street" (see video below) as they marched first through the alleyway onto Church Street and along the narrow street passage between the outdoor patios at Sweetwaters and Ri Ra.

As with last week, protest messages and demands ran the gamut and the political spectrum. The multi-generational crowd's demands were as varied as its attendees: End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, support unionized workers at Fletcher Allen Health Care and the University of Vermont, end the corporate influence on the electoral system, end the "corporatization" at UVM, support migrant farm workers, end the Federal Reserve, and the list went on.

Continue reading "Hundreds of Protesters "Occupy Burlington" During Downtown Rally (VIDEO)" »

October 04, 2011

Vermont's Got An N-Word Problem, Too (Video)

Rick-perry-gov-and-evangelist If you think Vermont has nothing in common with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, think again. 

The whole flap about the "N-word" variant "n*****head" being painted on the entrance to Perry's family hunting compound has highlighted the fact that this term was used throughout the United States as a place name, including in Vermont.

Last night, "Daily Show" correspondent Wyatt Cenac ran down a list of northern states that are home to equally offensive place names (see video below); there are several in upstate New York.

He mentioned a Vermont pond in his list, which made me wonder: Is it still named that?

Not officially. In Marshfield, three geographic place names have been officially listed with a variant of the "N-word" — a brook, a pond and a mountaintop, according to an online search of the U.S. Board on Geographic Name's Geographic Names Information Service. All three have since been changed.

A quick Internet search finds that the brook has been renamed, though its more offensive name is still noted in several fishing guides. According to the University of Vermont's Center on Rural Studies website, a group petitioned to have the mountaintop and the pond names changed to Marshfield Ledge and Marshfield Pond in 1971. Since 1971, the pond has again been renamed — this time to Turtlehead Pond.

Wait? 1971?

You mean the state that abolished slavery in its constitution back in the late 1700s held onto racially-insensitive place names for nearly 200 years?

Continue reading "Vermont's Got An N-Word Problem, Too (Video)" »

August 19, 2011

Howard Dean: Human Rights Activist or Terrorist Coddler?

220x Former Gov. Howard Dean is under increasing scrutiny for lobbying the Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to de-list the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) as a terrorist group.

Howard Dean — a human rights activist? I wonder how Vermont's native people feel about Dean's new focus on human rights, after he and Attorney General Bill Sorrell led the opposition of federal recognition for some of Vermont's Abenaki in the 1990s.

That was then, this is now.

Dean is one of a host of top-tier politicos who have been paid tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees to make a case for MEK to the public. The MEK has shelled out millions of dollars to indirectly lobby the Obama administration in an attempt to be taken off the United States' official list of terrorist organizations. The group has already been de-listed by Britain and France.

Yesterday, the U.S. State Department issued its updated terrorist list and the MEK remains on it. However, Secretary of State Clinton is still reviewing the MEK's request to be de-listed and will issue a separate ruling in the coming weeks.

In March, Dean joined a group of politicians, former military leaders and international experts urging the Obama Administration to support the MEK and boost protection of Camp Ashraf, Iraq, home to the 3400 members (including 1000 women) of MEK.

In addition to Dean, Gen. James Jones, former national security advisor to Pres. Obama; Michael Mukasey, former U.S. attorney general; Gen. Hugh Shelton, former chairman, joint chiefs of staff; Gov. Tom Ridge, former secretary of homeland security; and, Louis Freeh, former director, federal bureau of investigation were among the speakers.

Continue reading "Howard Dean: Human Rights Activist or Terrorist Coddler?" »

August 18, 2011

Migrant Farmworkers to Shumlin: Denounce Immigration Enforcement Program

DSC00150 Two migrant farm workers took a day off Thursday to deliver a petition to Gov. Peter Shumlin asking him to oppose a controversial federal immigration enforcement program. But the governor was tied up in meetings, so Danilo Lopez and Over Lopez (pictured) pleaded their case with the Agency of Agriculture's second-in-command instead.

For the last month, the Lopezes (who are not related) have been organizing migrant workers on Vermont dairy, vegetable and horse farms in opposition to Secure Communities, or S-Comm, an Obama administration program that shares fingerprints collected by local police agencies with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The program's goal is to catch and deport criminal aliens, but it has come under fire for sweeping up large numbers of undocumented immigrants who have no criminal record.

Asked about S-Comm at his weekly press conference, Shumlin said that on a "philosophical level" he believes Vermont should treat migrant workers with "respect and dignity." But he stopped well short of committing to taking a stand against the program.

"I haven't seen exactly what they're asking us to do," the governor said, "so I'm gonna plead the Fifth."

Continue reading "Migrant Farmworkers to Shumlin: Denounce Immigration Enforcement Program" »

July 20, 2011

New England's Buttoned-Up Answer to Bacchanalian Southern Decadence

Picture 4 By now, you've no doubt heard about the lesbian couple from New York suing a Lyndonville inn for allegedly saying "thanks, but no thanks" to their inquiry about holding their big gay wedding reception there.

According to the ACLU, which has taken up Ming Linsley and Kate Baker's discrimination case, the Wildflower Inn turned the couple away because the innkeepers believe gays will rot in the fifth circle of hell along with Hitler, Pol Pot and the entire cast of TLC's "Toddlers and Tiaras." The innkeepers, Jim and Mary O'Reilly, say they are devout Catholics and won't allow those kinds of gay nuptial shenangigans on their property because it goes against their religion. Unfortunately for them, that's a big no-no, argues the ACLU, who says it's a violation of Vermont's fair housing and public accomodations act. 

Yesterday, the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing sent out a damage control press release reassuring LGBT travelers that despite this nasty little incident, they're still welcome in our humble, little state, feather boas, leather harnesses and all. The press release listed the state's homo bonafides — first state to issue civil unions, first state to pass marriage equality without a court order, first state to sanction naked bear maple syrup wrestling, etc. It went on to say how much the state loves the pink dollars that flow into it from LGBT travelers and how they're increasing their efforts to get even more of the queer community's cash.

One of the ways Vermonters are trying to attract more gay visitors is with a new event to be held this September called Northern Decadence, a "diversity and culinary festival" in Burlington, co-sponsored by the Vermont Gay Tourism Associaton. My jaw bounced off the floor when I saw this. For one, putting the words "diversity" and "Vermont" close together in a sentence is like saying "Jersey Shore" and "classy" in the same breath. And two, if this is supposed to be New England's answer to the famed Southern Decadence, the annual Bacchanalian gay orgy in New Orleans and the evangelicals' official cause of Hurricane Katrina, sign me up. 

Continue reading "New England's Buttoned-Up Answer to Bacchanalian Southern Decadence" »

July 08, 2011

7 Questions For... Wayne Besen, Gay Rights Activist and "Ex-Gay" Mythbuster

Picture 4 In December of last year, Truth Wins Out — an advocacy organization dedicated to fighting anti-gay religious extremism, debunking the myth of "ex-gay" therapy and exposing its oft-hypocritical supporters — moved to Burlington from New York City. The nonprofit's founder, gay rights activist Wayne Besen, was taken by our quaint college town on the lake during a vacation and promptly ditched the city for our more peaceful environs.

New York's loss is our gain. Besen, 41, has been featured on numerous TV news shows including "NBC Nightly News," "The O'Reilly Factor," "The Rachel Maddow Show" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and is known as one of the leading voices in the crusade against "pray away the gay" therapy. In honor of gay pride seasonSeven Days asked Besen to give us his take on current issues affecting the LGBT community, including the passage of New York's marriage equality law and raving anti-gay nutball cum presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.

SEVEN DAYS: There have been some pretty big victories for the gay community in the past year — the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; the Obama Administration's decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act; the New York marriage equality bill; and that crazy gay Tony Awards opening number, to name a few. How can gay rights advocates maintain this momentum?

WAYNE BESEN: It is an odd experience to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in America today because there is an incoherent patchwork of laws that govern your life. Your legal status and that of your family is capricious, arbitrary, and subject to the whims of the majority. It is a perverse and precarious situation when your status as a family or even as an equal citizen can evaporate whenever you cross state lines or leave a friendly locale.

Continue reading "7 Questions For... Wayne Besen, Gay Rights Activist and "Ex-Gay" Mythbuster" »

June 28, 2011

Search and e-Seizure: What Police Can and Can't Do In Your Digital Domain

Know-your-rights-privacy The Vermont Supreme Court was back in the national spotlight last week when it heard arguments about how much snooping police can do into our digital drawers in the name of solving crimes.

The case involves a Burlington Police detective's investigation into alleged identity theft in December 2010. In it, Queen City cops asked the court to authorize an extraordinarily broad search and seizure of every digital device in the suspect's house, even those belonging to other people in the home not suspected of any wrongdoing.

As Seven Days reported in its December 8, 2010 cover story, "Digital Apprehensions: High-tech computer crime-fighting has arrive in Vermont — but at what price?", increasingly, Green Mountain law enforcement are relying on digital forensic work to solve major cases, raising a host of privacy issues that have yet to be fully sorted out.

Obviously, our laptops, smart phones and other digital devices contain huge amounts of personal info about ourselves, friends, families and co-workers, some of which is sensitive, confidential and potentially embarrassing enough to wreck our lives and careers (read: former Rep. Anthony Weiner). 

So, how far does the Fourth Amendment extend in protecting you if the government seeks to peruse your iPad? Do you know what to do if the cops show up at your door and want to take a little look-see?

Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Vermont case in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, published a helpful guide on knowing your rights — in the digital domain and your own living room. EFF staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury answers a few common questions.

Continue reading "Search and e-Seizure: What Police Can and Can't Do In Your Digital Domain" »

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

All Rights Reserved © Da Capo Publishing Inc. 1995-2012 | PO Box 1164, Burlington, VT 05402-1164 | 802-864-5684