March 30th, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: In Stunning First, Rick Santorum Makes Awkward Sexually-Tinged Joke, Reinforcing Own Predilection For Things Awkward and Sexually-Tinged

by Philip Baruth

Say what you want about the 2012 GOP Primary race, but admit this: the kool-aid is liberally laced with truth serum. Romney can’t seem to stop declaring, out loud and in public, that he enjoys firing people; yesterday he made it clear that this was a taste acquired from Romney Sr. And Big Rick, for his part, just can’t manage to stay clear of the disturbing same-sexual double entendre. Or triple, for that matter.

What candidate — in particular what candidate who’s been plagued for years by the online confusion of his own name with the particulars of male/male sex — what Presidential candidate marches into the nearby alleys for an evening of heavily-documented bowling, only to have this series of remarks tumble from his lips:

According to Reuters’ Sam Youngman, Santorum told a young man at South Lanes Bowling and Pizza in La Crosse to avoid using the femininely colored ball. “You’re not going to use the pink ball,” the former Pennsylvania senator said. “We’re not gonna let you do that. Not on camera.”

At the prompting of another reporter, Santorum also quipped, “friends don’t let friends use pink balls.”

Ridiculous, yes. Tellingly obsessed with that he claims to loathe, yes. But a little deeper, there’s just garden-variety, mainstream media-whoring at work here. This is a longshot candidate running on fumes against a frontrunner backed by tanker truck after tanker truck full of fuel — Santorum needs whatever socially-conservative earned media he can get, even off-message scraps. After all, he himself notes, as he makes the actual remarks, that he’s on camera. No hot mic moment here, folks.

Which is to say: Santorum saw that young man reaching for the pink balls, and he knew in an instant that it was going to be a very good night indeed.

March 24th, 2012

A Birds-Eye View of the Historic March 22nd Anti-Nuclear Rally At Entergy’s Vermont Headquarters in Brattleboro; or, How VDB Wound Up Doing Time in The Spitters’ Cell, and Related Sordid Tales

by Philip Baruth

Near the end of this story, I will find myself sitting in a small jail cell at the far end of a row of cells, dimensions about 5 feet by 7 feet by 6 feet, with four other male anti-nuclear protesters (no coed cells allowed), grouped around the stainless steel toilet and talking over the 40-year history of the drive to shut down Vermont Yankee. That cell is not the most pleasant the Brattleboro Police have to offer.

Its bars are fronted by a huge, airtight slab of smudged plexiglass, and it’s used for “protective confinement,” that is, to protect the police from the occupants.

Hence the name: the spitters’ cell.

The cops will be apologetic about the need to assign us the spitters’ cell, but with 140 or so arrested, they’re at their wit’s end for space. They’re doubly apologetic because the plexiglass allows no air to pass into or out of the cell, except through a small six-inch gap at the bottom.

So every 15 minutes or so, a Brattleboro cop will stroll by the plexiglass and wave at us, and we will wave back, one big happy family. But after an hour and a half or so, we slowly realize that he’s not being friendly — it’s an abnormally hot March evening, around 75 degrees, and he’s simply trying to make sure no one is in danger of passing out.

So we stop waving, and almost immediately we are transferred out of the spitters’ cell.

But it’s during that first hour and a half that I will find myself looking around at the scarred plexiglass, the concrete bed platform, the tiny messages scrimshawed into the bars (”I want out,” “Joanie 4ever”) and wonder: What precisely am I doing here again?

How It Started

VDB has opposed Yankee’s continued operation since its inception — or rather, since it joined forces back in 2006 with Steve West’s “Live and Local” radio show on WKVT in Brattleboro. Shutting down VY was a core principle of Steve’s show, and after doing an hour a week on the air with him, it’s fair to say I got religion on the issue.

When I decided to run for the State Senate in 2009, as an anti-nuclear candidate, I did so because I was convinced that the State Senate was the key to shuttering the plant for good. And for a while, during the 2010 Senate debate on the issue, and for nearly a year afterward, that seemed true enough.

Then came the Murtha decision, and suddenly the Senate was not just sidelined, but admonished for having ever mentioned the safety considerations involved with nuclear power generally, and the issues of trust and radiation at the Vernon plant specifically.

So last month I found myself again, as in the beginning, on WKVT with Steve, and Newfane activist Dan DeWalt, talking over the Murtha decision and trying to figure out where things go from here. And it seemed to me that if citizens had taken their cues from the Legislature on the nuclear issue for the last year or so, it was now time for the Legislature to take its cues from the citizens and the activists again, at least for the foreseeable future.

So I asked Dan what was coming up in the way of citizen activism at VY in the near term.

Funny you should ask, DeWalt said.

What It Was

Entergy’s original design and authorization package called for a 40-year lifespan, with March 21, 2012 as the drop-dead shut-down date. Of course, over the years the various owners have attempted to extend that interval, with Entergy only the most recent and the most aggressive. March 22, in other words, would be the first day the company would be in breach of that original agreement, putting aside the convoluted attempts to extend the plant’s life over the last five years.

So the SAGE Alliance was in the planning stages for a massive rally at Entergy’s Headquarters in Brattleboro. The event would feature a long march from the Brattleboro Commons to the HQ, some three and a half miles away — nearly single-file all the way, as the route traversed some high-traffic roads. There a series of small affinity groups — all trained in civil disobedience — would risk arrest, one after the other, in a very gentle but persistent wave.

Crucially, the event would be timed to coincide with actions in Louisiana, at Entergy’s corporate home base, and at other nuclear facilities in the Northeast. It was a very well-designed agenda, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to take part.

The catch: SAGE is smart enough to require non-violence training for all the affinity groups that risk arrest under their banner. Puts everyone on the same page, and it dramatically lowers the risk of provocateurs or non-like-minded freelancers taking the event in a counter-productive direction.

Which was how I found myself at the Montpelier Grange, the weekend before the Brattleboro rally, working my way through a day-long training session in non-violent thought and action. It was a day full of role-playing and simulated marches — some of which would be interrupted by trainers playing police or provocateurs — and it drove home the point that peaceful arrest was the goal, as a way of forcing Entergy and the system undergirding it to acknowledge the ongoing costs of its actions.

But the best moment was when I walked through the Grange door and saw a huge banner that read, “Remember Fukushima,” and below it a much smaller red-and-white sign with the words, “We stand with our Vermont state legislators.” (Full props to Eric, Diane, and Er!k for their guidance on that afternoon.)

Still, when the day was over, two more things were still missing before I could feel comfortable risking arrest: legal counsel, on the question of whether the arrest of even a single Senator could compromise the ongoing appeal of the Murtha decision, and permission from my daughter, whom I’d promised to take to the long-awaited midnight premiere of The Hunger Games at the Palace 9 cinema on the exact same day.

Legal counsel took about a week, but the various people I consulted — people with top-shelf knowledge of the case and its implications — were all of the opinion that I could exercise my rights as an individual, and as a Vermont Senator, without impacting the ongoing litigation.

But permission from Gwendolyn was tougher to come by: she was adamant that a promise was a promise, so it took two weeks of domestic back and forth before she finally came down unexpectedly one night before bed and agreed to give up the midnight show, if need be.

For which she was hugged very much.

How It Came Together

So when I got to Brattleboro the morning of the 22nd, everything was in place, including my own support team: Steve West, and his girlfriend Jen, who got me to the Commons while Steve pumped the rally for the last hour of his slot on WKVT (podcasts available here).

From the start it was clear that this would be a massive gathering; there were already about 600 in the park, with more streaming in as each speaker came to the microphone. And then, remembering my social media manners, I started tweeting and kept tweeting, until such time as my phone was confiscated later in the day. (The whole sequence is archived here.)

It was that particular mix of politics and circus that New England generally, and Bread & Puppet specifically, have perfected over the decades: women on stilts dressed as Fukushima angels, paper-mache nuclear plants with bubbles leaking from their domes, many people painted, everyone wearing bright colors and sun hats, and everyone on one page: the time for the plant to close was now.

It was a globally-weird morning in March: temperature slowly climbing into the 80’s, and everyone dressed for late July. I’d come with no hat, and halfway through the long, winding, 3.5 mile march I realized it was a serious mistake — could feel my face burning, and the crown of my head cooking.

So I turned to my right, and there it was: True Value Hardware. Five minutes later I was back in line wearing a $1.98 white painters cap, with the words “True Value” emblazoned in red across the front. Which just seemed, you know, metaphorically fitting.

How I Got Busted

Once we reached the Safety Zone — a staging area across from the plant, owned by a sympathetic local — there were more speeches and performances, but mostly everyone got serious. Affinity groups formed up, and checked their roles and supplies; I was grouped in with some folks called Sun-Dew, over from Turner’s Falls, Massachusetts, as lovely a group of individuals as you could find in any state anywhere. (Many thanks to David Detmold and Court Dorsey for taking in a stray on short notice.)

And at a certain pre-determined point, word was given for those not willing to risk arrest to head out and form a welcoming crowd outside Entergy HQ; those of us who were risking arrest stayed put for a final briefing.

Then the various affinity groups were put into sequence, with mine as number six in line. And off we went.

But not before the appropriate tweet, with a quote for Gwendolyn, repurposing a phrase from The Hunger Games: “Civil disobedience commencing now — last transmission until it’s over/may the odds be ever in our favor http://twitpic.com/8zuvli”

The first group made their approach to the thick line of yellow “Private Property” tape and nylon rope used to cordon off the entrance to the Headquarters, and there was that moment of maximum tension when everyone realizes that all of this planning has now come to a head, civil disobedience is occurring now. Like pressing your forefinger against a soap bubble, the way that first group pressed slowly up against the rope.

Then a visual pop, and they were inside. And almost immediately the first group were read the riot act and hustled away. Again, and again, the affinity groups came.

Until it was our turn. Leslie Sullivan Sachs, who was the SAGE emcee as the non-violence got underway, posted this sharp little clip and it gives a real feel for the atmosphere.


The actual confrontation was very peaceful, with those of us from the affinity groups trying to engage the Entergy guards, or offer them shut-down petitions, but respectful of their refusal to do so. Within ten minutes of crossing the line, we were being hustled around the side of the building.

And because I couldn’t resist, I snapped and tweeted what is now one of my favorite photos of all time, called “My Arresting Officer.”

In general the police seemed unconcerned about my documenting the event, and it wasn’t until they put me in big thick white plastic manacles and confiscated my iPhone that I was obliged, finally, to give it up and head off to jail.

How It Ended

Which is how I found myself in the spitters’ cell, with four other absolutely stand-up guys, talking over the 40-year history of the movement and bantering with the guards through the six-inch gap in the bottom of the smudged plexiglass shield. And the answer to the question “What am I doing here?” was topic number one for us, and we all saw it precisely the same way: we were there to add our jailing to the costs of doing business for Entergy Corporation.

And for me, it had also to do with showing the Federal government that I didn’t hold with their general order to leave safety to the industry-dominated NRC. The oath of office that I swore, as I recall, had a lot to do with protecting the health and well-being of Vermonters, and when I recited those words, I meant them.

So after 5 hours or so in custody, I was kicked loose finally about 9 pm, with an arraignment date of June 2013, an inexplicably long time-frame, the logic of which will be revealed at some point soon, no doubt.

Steve and Jen swooped in to pick me up behind the police station, and they gave me a turkey sandwich and a travel mug of coffee, and I was on my way to the Palace 9 Cinema in South Burlington.

When all was said and done, I made it to the theater at 11:45 pm, with 15 minutes to spare before the midnight show with my daughter Gwendolyn.

And the movie, about a small group of rural freedom-fighters who unwillingly produce the fuel to power an oppressive regime — before ultimately managing to overthrow it — was brilliant.

March 18th, 2012

Where We Are On S.238 And The Drive To Provide Migrant Workers With Licenses

by Philip Baruth

An update for those following S. 238, the bill to allow Hispanic migrant workers to apply for Vermont licenses, as a means of solving a myriad of problems that trace back to lack of mobility. You’ll remember that Senate Agriculture passed the bill out about a week and a half ago; at that point — given that a bill which originally envisioned an entire guest worker program had now focused down to licenses only — it went to Senate Transportation, and there hit something of a wall. Transportation felt that they simply couldn’t take enough testimony, and clear enough procedural hurdles and potential risks, before Crossover (the drop-dead pass date in the House and Senate). So we did what could be done: we created a timeline to get this done next session. And yes, that hurt.

As rewritten, S.238 puts in place a study group not to revisit the problem at large — everyone agrees the problem is real and pressing — but to produce specific recommendations for revisions in DMV procedures to allow these licenses to be issued. The group will game out how to do this, in short, rather than whether or why. Most heartening were the assurances from the head of DMV that he will do whatever is legally within his power to prepare the ground — should all the parties, including the Governor, find agreement over the summer.

A best-case scenario would see these workers applying for licenses as early as the summer of 2013.

Could this working group founder, as have others in the past? Of course. Could the next Legislature be stocked with folks who simply don’t like the idea of stretching our procedures to acommodate workers from Mexico and Guatemala? Sadly, such people aren’t hard to find, or to elect.

But the consensus around the need to act was real in this Legislature, and it included not just Senate Ag and Transportation, but the Governor and his legal counsel as well. Everyone realizes that these folks have not just worked hard — they’ve had a lot to do with the saving of the dairy industry. And we should be grateful.

So expect S. 238 to pass easily out of the Senate this week. And expect that come next year the pressure to enact this group’s recommendations will be intense and unremitting. Te prometo.

March 9th, 2012

Senate Agriculture Takes A Stand On Animal Cruelty: Nobody Puts Piggy In A Corner (Now With Heart-Warming and Anti-Climactic Unanimous Senate Conclusion!)

by Philip Baruth

In all the Town Meeting Day hoopla, we forgot to pass on some excellent news to the animal lovers out there: Senate Agriculture managed, against all odds, to pass out S. 239, a bill to prevent the use of gestation crating for pregnant sows. Gestation crates are the veal pens of the pork industry — far too small for a pig to turn around — and they have no place in Vermont farming, traditional or otherwise.

Suffice it to say that the committee was divided: VDB and another Senator who found the practice offensive, facing off with two Senators who wanted to let industry handle the issue. And suffice it also to say that after a passionate exchange, one of those two Senators suddenly saw the light — and we pushed it out of committee 3-1.

Look for it to surface on the Senate floor next week. And when it does, hug a pig.

Late Update, March 18, 12:38 pm:

In a rare show of unanimity, the Senate voted out S. 239 just last week, 30-0. Even our lone hold-out from the Ag Committee, who had favored industry regulating itself, saw fit to stand with the pigs in the end. Is your heart warm? It should be.

But of course, we never should have had to fight so hard to allow pregnant sows to stand up and turn around in the first place, VDB supposes. In any event, it’s on to House Agriculture, so if you support this bill, you know what to do now, folks.

March 8th, 2012

Best. Bit. Of. Mayoral. Coverage. Ever.

by Philip Baruth

Freeps reporter Joel Banner Baird happened to catch the precise moment when Kurt Wright’s communications manager, Stephen Churchill, learned that the party he was currently at would not be a victory party after all. And thanks to Baird’s excellent reportage, You Are There:

“Twitter carried news of the outcome before poll workers had finished counting ballots citywide.

“At Nectar’s, alerted by Burlington Free Press tweets, the Democrats toasted Weinberger’s victory.

“At the Scuffer, Churchill’s smart-phone registered a message. He glanced at its screen and winced.

“It’s Ed Adrian. I owe him a beer.”

March 7th, 2012

Random Bloviation Post-Town Meeting Day

by Philip Baruth

So we told you a while back that this Miro guy could take the ball to the hole in the Burlington mayoral race. Did we know he could take it to the hole by a margin of 21%? Admittedly no. But we’ll go ahead and say it again: this is what happens when Democrats run a focused, aggressive, highly organized, well-messaged campaign — and when the City’s strong Progressive Party allows them to do so.

And of course, you can reverse the Party names in that last sentence, and it will still remain enduringly true. When the Left hangs tough and together in Burlington, and in Vermont at large, our shared beliefs move forward in a landslide.

End of story.

So congratulations to Miro and his wife Stacy, and to his very talented campaign team, especially Jaafar Rizvi, Jessica Nordhaus, and Deb Lichtenfeld. Sleep well. And thanks again to a guy who had a profound impact on the outcome of this race, State Senator Tim Ashe. Tim handled a tough situation with grace, and he led the way to a working rapproachment between the Miro camp and the City’s Progressive die-hards. Well done.

Two things to note well:

1) The idea that Kurt Wright, or any Republican, can roll up huge margins in the City’s more conservative New North End was revealed to be a tired pipe dream. Shumlin won out in the NNE, remember, and Kurt Wright — favorite son if ever there was or will be one — only netted 350 votes or so there. And Ward 4’s open Council seat went relatively easily to a complete (albeit highly energetic) newcomer, Bryan Aubin. So Ward 4 is now officially Democratic turf, absent a Kurt Wright; Ward 7 remains a GOP stronghold, but very weakly so.

2) Independent mayoral candidates are just a losing proposition in Burlington, given our occasionally polarized three-party system. Party ID runs high as a mayoral campaign draws close, and even buzzworthy independents (like Dan Smith a few years back) find that voter interest tends to evaporate in the face of that basic party competition. Wanda Hines acquitted herself admirably in debates this time out — and had opened a potential wedge issue with the proposed school budget — but finally her candidacy was more or less a non-factor at 500 or so votes.

An out-of-town result worth celebrating? That apple-cheeked Odum kid managed to pull out a win in the Montpelier Clerk’s race. Which means that John too will now know the sweet pleasures of too much work, too little pay, and that special handful of highly communicative constituents who never voted for you in the first place, vow never to vote for you again, and demand every day that you perform the job to their precise and exact specifications.

Green Mountain Daily’s loss is Montpelier’s gain, folks. Well done, John.

March 5th, 2012

At Long Last Senate Agriculture Represents: S. 238 Would Finally Bring Migrant Dairy Workers Fully Into The VT Community

by Philip Baruth

As all political junkies know, crossover is the magical moment by which crucial legislation must pass to the Other Body — that is, make it from the Senate to the House, and vice versa. With time running out before said deadline, the pace in the Statehouse increases dramatically, and watershed moments come at a dizzying clip. But the best thing to come out this past Friday, of all the watersheds?

Senate Agriculture unanimously passed out a bill that would allow migrant dairy workers to apply for Vermont drivers licenses.

The bill is admirably simple: it adds a Mexican or Guatamalan consular ID and passport to the list of documents accepted for an operator’s license. In that way, the bill avoids a thousand pitfalls; it doesn’t speak to immigration status, and in the highly unlikely event that the federal government fully requires the Real ID system it has long threatened, our statute would expire immediately.

But the positive effects are potentially huge: this community, about 1,500 strong in the state, would no longer be isolated on farms spread out over the state. Mobility would put everything within reach — from food and basic staples to emergency medical treatment. And crucially, if stopped by law enforcement, these folks would have official ID to make the case that they’re hardworking, respected members of the community.

Now sure, the bill has a long way to travel. But it’s a potential gamechanger in any event. Danilo Lopez, one of the leaders of Migrant Justice, said it best. The subject line of the email was “Thank You/Gracias”:

Dear Senator Baruth,

I write to send you my warmest greetings. I hope that you and all of your family are well.

I want to thank you for supporting Senate Bill 238 and voting to pass it out of the Agricultural Committee. With your vote and support we can change the lives of many people, giving them the opportunity to move freely and have access to their basic needs.

We feel very happy with the decision that all of you on the Agricultural Committee have made, because it gives us the hope that, with your voice and support, the other members of the Senate and House of Representatives will be compelled to make the right decision as well by supporting S-238.

What this bill proposes is basic equality, which is why all of our community and our allies are supporting it. Now that we know we are not alone and that you have joined our supporters, we feel truly happy. Let’s make Vermont the example of change that we need so much. It is unjust to say that we live in the land of freedom while the action on immigration being taken in many other states represents just the opposite.

Thank you very much for your support and your vote. Let’s make Vermont the example to follow.

Sincerely,

Danilo López

Member of Migrant Justice, of the migrant community and of Vermont

Expect a fight over this bill at one point or another; expect also that the migrant worker community and their allies across the state will be ready for it. And finally, expect that Senate Agriculture — long the redheaded stepchild of the chamber’s committee system, but now a lean mean legislating machine — will be right there beside them.

March 2nd, 2012

VDB’s Populist Prize from Common Cause

by Philip Baruth

Common Cause of Vermont released a detailed report yesterday on 2010 election spending in the state, and the best part of all? We raised the most money from individuals, as opposed to parties, PACs, or businesses, in the whole shooting match. We rush to quote:

“At the other end of the spectrum, Sens. Anthony Pollina (P/D), Kevin Mullin (R), and Philip Baruth (D) won prizes for populist monetary support. A total of 62 percent of Pollina’s total contributions of $11,400 were from Individuals, with Mullin not far behind at 61.6 percent of his $17,250 total. Baruth, a newcomer who ran for an open seat, garnered 59.3 percent of his total of $37,400 from Individuals, which was the most money contributed to any Senate candidate.”

That was you, people. For which we thank you profusely and profoundly, one more time.