October 30th, 2009

VDB Is Pre-Emptively Sorry For the Graphic Liebermaniacal Nature of Today’s Post

by Philip Baruth

A little embarrassing to say, but you know how sometimes you get a pimple or a boil on the part of your back you can’t reach or even see in a mirror, or maybe it’s down even lower, on the upper reaches of your backside, and because you can’t reach it very well it stays and turns redder and uglier every day, to the point where it ceases to be annoying and becomes actually painful, even momentarily maddening if you let yourself think about it for a second? VDB hates it when that happens. Only one thing to be done, of course: lance it.

October 28th, 2009

When Was The Last Time You Were Heroic?

by Philip Baruth

We’re in the final stages of preparation for the volunteer event this Saturday morning at the Teen Center in Essex, and the last step is figuring out exactly how many of you can join us. So drop me a line if you plan to step up, and we’ll mark you down. Not to say you couldn’t just drop by that morning on a whim. You totally could. But this way we don’t underprovide as far as donuts go. Remember, the meet-up is 10:30 am at Martone’s, 16 Main Street, Essex Junction, and there’s a long post here explaining why exactly we think this is important and worth your time. Look to hear from you.

October 26th, 2009

How Was Your Weekend? You Know, Danced, Climbed, Saved The Planet

by Philip Baruth

As most of you know, this past weekend saw a huge uptick in activist activity around the problem of global warming, most of it in conjunction with the International Day of Climate Action sponsored by Bill McKibben and 350.org. Not surprisingly, Vermont hosted more than its share of 350-themed events, like this intense yet family-friendly hike put together by Burlington’s Alex Messinger. Beautiful.

Alex and friends, with their own monument to Change.

The kids collected leaves at the base of Snake Mountain, and then used 350 at the top to create an installation. The point of the colorful leaves, exactly?

Climate change threatens your syrup too, dude.

VDB was invited to the Snake Mountain hike, but had a previous 350 engagement: Kathy Blume’s 350 Dance Party at Higher Ground, with reggae band Spiritual Rez.

Environmental activist Kathy Blume, right.

Along with Chris St. Martin and Dan Garcia, the State Senate campaign’s dauntless interns, VDB hawked raffle tickets and generally contributed to the vibe of the 500-strong crowd.

A day of many hopeful signs and portents. But the most hopeful? When Alex’s group finally reached the summit of Snake Mountain, Leahy’s Chief of Staff was already there.

October 26th, 2009

BREAKING: One James DeFilippi Upends Paper-and-Ink World of Publishing With Free, Rebar Tough Digital Competitor

by Philip Baruth

For those of you who’ve followed the ins and outs of VDB over the last 5 years, one name should begin to sound eerily familiar: “Don,” a.k.a. Jim DeFilippi, retired school teacher, Vermont author, and now the State Senate campaign’s man in Winooski. The thing about Don is that you name the event, and he’s always there. He’s that kind of friend.

DeFilippi discusses a potential “Bonnie Situation” with VDB at the campaign’s recent kick-off.

A BBQ down on North Beach? Don’s there. A fiction reading for 6 visibly uncomfortable people in a really big empty room down in Brandon? Don somehow manages to make the scene. Which is to say you can always count on the guy, when the rubber meets the road.

the crowd, huddled
After grazing the food table, Don keeps a weather eye out for trouble at the 2007 Hamburger Summit.

After a while you start to wonder where the guy finds the time to be everywhere, supporting more or less everyone at once. But you really wonder when you see the scale of some of his side projects.

donTake Brown Fedora Books.

DeFilippi realized, a while back, that the increasingly commercial paper-and-ink publishing world wasn’t meeting his needs, or those of many of his friends in the world of Vermont literature.

And so he set out to create a wide-ranging library of free downloads, including his own always gritty, often hilarious crime novels.

His latest offering is a collection of the best of VDB called Sled Dogs and Heavyweights, and it brings together a very judicious mix of interviews, commentary, and quick satirical bits to give it all some snap.

It’s yours for the clicking, free of charge.

That’s the beauty of Brown Fedora books: they’re rebar tough, built to last. And you don’t pay one thin dime.

Grazie mille, Don.

October 24th, 2009

Tuesday Night the 27th: Shelburne Brings It

by Philip Baruth

Not sure where you stand on the question of Vermont Yankee’s relicensing and decommissioning fund? Have we got a high-powered roundtable for you. Brought to you by the hard-working activists out in Shelburne, and with some big guns sitting on both sides of the table. We wouldn’t miss this one for a million bucks. — PB

October 23rd, 2009

What Is Service Politics Anyway, And Why On Earth Would I Want To Volunteer In Essex When I Could Be Powering Down Kit Kat and Three Muskateers Bars In The Darkness and Privacy Of My Own Home?

by Philip Baruth

There are a lot of things not to like about your average political campaign. But the worst for me? The sense of sheer wastefulness. America spent $2.4 billion on the 2008 Presidential election, a very large part of it for ads that changed absolutely nothing — except the bottom line for consultants and television stations. In a word, that’s obscene. But not all of those resources were wasted.

Once Barack Obama had the nomination in hand, his campaign launched a huge initiative, to bring about grassroots change on the ground in communities across the nation — before the general election. The idea was to devote part of the campaign’s resources and volunteers to people and projects in need, without waiting for November.

I was out in Denver for the Democratic National Convention, as an elected State Delegate representing Vermont. And I can tell you that every afternoon it was an amazing sight: a big long line of yellow buses, lined up to take a small army of volunteers to locations across the city. My bus, headed up by Congressman Welch, went to a predominantly Hispanic school that needed a new playground.

And we built them one, all of us working together, in the space of a single afternoon. It was a satisfying feeling for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I knew when I got back on the bus that win or lose come November, that playground would be standing — as would the whole series of projects that volunteers accomplished that week.

That’s what a national campaign can do, when its volunteers are encouraged to think about something besides putting a single candidate in office. That’s what a campaign can do when the people running it decide that they’ll serve the community now, rather than making it conditional upon election.

That’s called service politics.

I’ve chosen to run a very long campaign, because the Senate race from Chittenden County strikes me as the toughest in Vermont, short of a statewide bid. In order to cover all of this County, you need to build a solid organization from the get-go, you need to raise money and you need to convince hundreds of people to help you get your message out.

You need to build what amounts to a successful small business, from the ground up.

But when this race is over, I’d like to be able to say that I ran something more and better than a political campaign.

Win or lose, I want to be able to point to projects we accomplished along the way — some small in scale, some not so small — projects that will continue to change life for the better in our cities and villages going forward.

And we’ll be starting this push in Essex Junction, on Halloween morning. Think of it as an alternative Halloween: instead of egging cars and spraying Nair in one another’s hair and gorging on Kit Kat bars, we’ll start the 31st at the Essex Teen Center, helping them refinish and upgrade their big dancehall meeting space.

We’ll be sanding the floor, painting, washing windows, as extreme a makeover as can be done by a healthy group of volunteers in the space of three hours.

If you’re one of those people who, for no logical reason, enjoy volunteering and getting things done, come on down. If you’re the parent of an Essex teen, come on down and bring your son or daughter.

We’ll be meeting up at Martone’s Deli, 16 Main Street in Essex Junction, at 10:30 am on Halloween morning, and then walking over to the Teen Center at 11.

If you’ve ever sat through a typical political event — listened to dull speeches, watched donations change hands, eaten rubbery chicken and wondered whether any of it mattered — I promise these service events won’t leave you feeling that way. I think you’ll feel satisfied. You’ll feel like politics doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

We’ll look for you on Halloween morning, while the sun’s still up, and long before the dead begin to walk.

October 21st, 2009

In Which VDB Offers Burlington Telecom Sage Advice That Will Inevitably Be Ignored

by Philip Baruth

Each political scandal has its own peculiar physics, but they all share one basic principle: public outrage increases in direct proportion to a lack of private transparency. “Get it out, get it out, get it out!” George Stephanopoulos used to yell in meetings about what to do with information about Whitewater and related Clinton-era boondoggles.

Bob Kiss, left, and Jonathan Leopold, right

Not a bad three-word prescription for any beleaguered politico or company, including Burlington Telecom. Granted, BT is nominally a public concern, but it has functioned in daily practice like the least transparent private companies.

But this morning things are looking very different indeed: BT and the Burlington CAO have now been caught dead to rights, putting together a financing arrangement out of the public eye and counter to the explicit conditions of its state operating license. “A left-handed bag-job,” as Hunter S. Thompson liked to say back in the day.

And even Jonathan Leopold, who has previously argued that the entire arrangement was above board and fully disclosed, now admits that his approach was “a mistake in hindsight.”

A novel admission for Leopold, but still an admission that amounts to weasel words: the illicit loan was a mistake not only in hindsight, but at the moment it was conceived and executed, and it’s impossible to believe that Leopold and Kiss didn’t know that, didn’t take it into consideration when they let the weeks slide by without full disclosure.

But to return to the opening statement above, the reverse is equally true: public outrage decreases in direct proportion to private transparency, even if the facts are relatively damning.

So let’s say that Burlington Telecom, a company which has come a long way toward embodying a fine ideal, picked up the phone and called VDB for advice on crisis management. We would advise four simple moves, all put into motion by lights out today:

1) Greenlight a company-wide audit, avoiding the State Auditor’s office but working with the City Council to select an independent agency capable of restoring trust in the condition of the books.

2) Immediately step up efforts to refinance the $17 million, making sure the City and taxpayers are not on the hook for additional interest or finance costs of any kind.

3) Signal willingness to work with the City to create a new, more transparent oversight agency for Burlington Telecom. The current arrangement, with Leopold as a sort of shadowy second CEO, has to end.

4) Announce plans to provide free wireless access for the length of Church Street, a concept we’ve spent the summer and fall talking about, but one that now looks doubly attractive for a company seeking to restore faith in its public mission.

The key concept here is giving: giving information about the company’s financial status, giving the City (and voters) a clearer path to oversight of BT, giving back some of the tangible benefits produced by an infrastructure that taxpayers brought into being originally. The universal wifi signal, a stream of information moving out, like rays from the sun, should become the company’s de facto ethical emblem as well.

Again, the key word is giving, as opposed to withholding. Any real and lasting solution to the company’s political troubles will eventually be drawn from that formula. Accepting that reality quickly is the key, and what tends to distinguish survivors from the eventual road-kill.

If you doubt that see Wikipedia, under the headings Nixon, Richard and/or Clinton, William Jefferson (see also Impeachment).

October 21st, 2009

Adrian Goes There: Surrender Leopold!

by Philip Baruth

We bring you this late breaking news: Burlington City Councilor Ed Adrian has just released a letter calling not merely for an audit of Burlington Telecom, but that CAO Jonathan Leopold be placed on administrative leave pending the audit’s findings. Coming rapidly on the heels of David O’Brien’s recent condemnation of Leopold, and the Free Press call for an audit, Adrian’s letter can’t help but crank up the tension. The entire text is below. — PB

Bob Kiss, left, and Jonathan Leopold, right


Mayor Bob Kiss
Room 34, City Hall
Burlington, Vermont 05401

RE: Administrative Leave for CAO Jonathan Leopold

Dear Bob:

Based on his public statements about the actions he has taken since bringing the management of Burlington Telecom (BT) into the CAO’s office in November 2007, I am respectfully asking you to initiate a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the management of BT and to place CAO Jonathan Leopold on unpaid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

I do not take my responsibility in writing this letter lightly and I do so only after having consulted with many attorneys and dozens of thoughtful members of the community. I also understand that, because I am the messenger, you may see this letter as “political maneuvering.” While partisan politics is not at all my motivation in writing this letter, the process in and of itself makes this a political situation. I have consulted with Ken Schatz and asked him what it would take to initiate proceedings against a department head. Attorney Schatz has advised me that disciplinary proceedings with respect to department heads are controlled by City Charter Section 129, which essentially provides that only the City Council and/or the Mayor may initiate disciplinary proceedings against a department head. Thus, unlike “at will” or union employees, disciplinary action against department heads are “politicized” by the plain language of the City Charter which only allows elected officials to take such action.

With that being said, I wish that this letter were coming from someone other than me. I hope you understand that whatever I do and however I do it, it is because I think it is in the best interests of my constituents and the City as a whole. It is thus after weeks of careful thought and consideration that I am respectfully requesting that you place CAO Jonathan Leopold on unpaid administrative leave pending a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the handling of Burlington Telecom.

The CAO’s own public admissions in respect to BT, clearly establish the following facts: 1) he deceived the Council (the corporate board for BT) by omission; 2) for a period of at least six (6) months; 3) that he purposefully and willfully violated BT’s certificate of public good; 4) by moving millions of dollars from the City’s cash pool. Again all of this was done without approval (i.e. a vote) by the Council. Please note that when I indicate that CAO Leopold acted illegally, I am not alleging that he has engaged in any criminal wrongdoing; however, it is entirely clear that he intentionally violated the CPG, thus breaking the law and thereby acting illegally.

ed adrian and family
Ed Adrian and family

The CAO’ s own statements conclusively establish that he misappropriated millions of taxpayer dollars and mislead the Council and the public for an extended period of time about this illegal diversion of city funds. If these admissions do not by themselves demonstrate dereliction of the CAO’s official duties, meriting an imposed absence pending the outcome of an investigation, than [sic] it is difficult to imagine what does. Certainly your own precedent in suspending a City employee pending the investigation of issues involving far less money and infinitely less jeopardy to taxpayers demands this action at the very least.

Bob, we are at a crucial turning point in Burlington’s history. BT may still be a viable venture for Burlington, but it has become clear to me over the last month that it has been mismanaged and that the CAO is responsible for this mismanagement. Success can never be claimed if it is founded on illegality. For the people of Burlington, the City, and BT I would encourage you to move forward and support a leave of absence for the CAO and an independent investigation that will determine the mistakes that were made and keep BT from making similar errors in the future.

Please do not hesitate to give me a call at if you have any questions or concerns. I hope that you, I, and the rest of the Council will be able to work together to continue to move BT and the City forward.

For now, I remain,

Very truly yours,

/s/ Ed Adrian
Ward 1 City Councilor

Cc: City Councilors

October 20th, 2009

Colburnized Facebook Page Pwns Web

by Philip Baruth

Not that it’s considered earth-shaking news anywhere but here in VDB HQ, but our State Senate shot past 500 supporters last night, which is not too shabby for a page that went up just a few months back. Techno-credit where techno-credit is due: the page and all the campaign’s social media are masterminded by one Selene Colburn, who hates the limelight and has apparently cleared the Web of photos in order to avoid basking in it, but who really only put me to the task of taking a screen shot of a vintage Eva Sollberger in order to properly embarrass her. Many thanks to Selene/Eva/Facebook/all of you.

October 19th, 2009

In Doomed Bid To Raise The Tone, Today’s First Post Will Feature Undead Deadheads

by Philip Baruth

Okay, given that our last post was about Howard Dean being attacked by a giant bug, you’d think we’d make a point of getting into some serious policy discussion today, just to show our chops. But apparently not: Topic A this morning is, uh, zombies. WRUV, UVM’s increasingly high-quality campus radio station, has just started a segment called Writers @ WRUV, featuring fiction read live over the air.

And last week VDB was a guest, and the story was an unpublished piece called “American Zombie Beauty,” which is equal parts Grateful Dead and Living Dead. Indeed.

If you’re a fan of either sub-genre, and potentially open to a melding of the two, you can find a PDF file of the story at the link above. And if you’re the sort who might conceivably want to complete your Stairmaster workout while hearing a story about a zombie attack up the Mountain Road in Stowe actually read aloud, the MP3 is here for the clicking.

It’s funny: the Senate campaign advisors have said right along that zombies are not suitable material for the campaign trail, and no doubt they’re right. No registered voter wants to deal with the lust for human flesh and Goldman Sachs’s lust for obscene bonuses in one afternoon.

So you have our word: after today we’ll avoid the topic like the plague. So to speak. Thanks to WRUV’s multi-talented Chris Evans for having me on.

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