September 16th, 2011


by Philip Baruth

You may remember that when Obama was pondering extending the Bush tax cuts, we warned him that VDB would be off the bus in that case. You may remember that when Obama caved on the deficit deal, we vacated said bus. And you may remember that no one in the White House cared a fig. But that was then. Suddenly, with Blue-State numbers more generally in the tank, the media is beginning to pay attention to the disgruntled base. And not just New York and New Jersey and California, but even that ultra-Liberal, green-headed stepchild, Vermont.

Notes Politico: “In Democratic strongholds from Vermont to California — not to mention New York City, where the president helped sink his party’s nominee in Tuesday’s special election — Obama isn’t quite tanking, but he’s moving unmistakably in the wrong direction.”

This before pointing out the numbers, which are striking enough, given where we were circa 2008.

“The phenomenon is present even in Vermont, every cycle among the first states called for the Democratic presidential nominee on election night. Voters there — a place which delivered 67 percent of its vote to Obama in 2008 — gave the president an approval rating of only 53 percent in a mid-August Public Policy Polling survey.”

Will this get us the Hope and Change we voted for, now that Barry Needs Us Back? No. The White House will continue to triangulate, and that unsuccessfully. But at least we know we’re beginning to sour the dreams of David Axelrod, and in 2011 America, VDB will take what VDB can get.

September 13th, 2011

Text of Open Letter To UVM Trustees

by Philip Baruth

Last week I wrote an open letter to the UVM Trustees, stressing the need for executive compensation reform at the University, especially given the Board’s stance on downsizing those at the bottom end of the pay scale. That letter has been quoted in part here and there since then, and I thought it couldn’t hurt to have the whole text out there at this point. Feel free to quote or reprint. — PB

September 5, 2011

Dear Robert Cioffi, and the UVM Board of Trustees:

First, please excuse the public nature of this letter. It is the first we’ve ever exchanged, and in any other circumstance I would have communicated what I had to say privately. The issues at hand have become not only the public’s business, however, but the public’s pressing concern. For my own part, I find myself now in the extraordinary position of voting against a transfer of substantial taxpayer funds into the University’s endowment, and I feel that I should make my reasons clear both to my constituents and to my colleagues, so that there will be no grounds for misunderstanding.

I would match my devotion to the University of Vermont against anyone’s – Trustee, student, faculty, or staff. Having taught here for the better part of twenty years, I like to think I have some understanding of its mission as the state’s flagship public university. With that said, I have been genuinely and deeply appalled – unfortunately there is no more politic word – at the Administration’s policies with regard to the intimately related issues of executive and staff compensation.

Without detailing the former at length, it’s fair to say that the compensation packages and paid leaves arranged for top-end University officials have provoked a general outrage in the state; at precisely the same instant, the Administration has been attempting openly to downsize and disadvantage workers at the very lowest end of the University pay scale. The offer with regard to staff health care, currently on the bargaining table, is especially egregious, but all the more so when ranged against the coverage – and the generous supplementary “wellness package” – enjoyed by our outgoing President.

It has long been the Board’s contention that only a radical restructuring – a starkly minimal reimagining – of compensation and retirement for faculty and staff will carry the University forward in these economic times. Yet the financial lives of the uppermost Administration – including those actually paid to leave the University – have changed only for the better. Our outgoing President’s total compensation exceeded the salary paid not only to the Governor, but to the President of the United States of America. And of course President Fogel will continue to receive all of the various perks granted him through an extraordinary 17-month paid leave.

By way of justification, the Board has argued that its hands are tied on staff compensation: it must create a “sustainable” workforce by paying the staff the absolute least they will accept. On Presidential compensation, the Board argues the reverse: its hands are tied by a national economy that dictates paying the President the most he might ask – that is, what he just might theoretically get elsewhere. In short, the Board argues that it has no choice but to continue to greatly expand the gap between the highest and the lowest paid – only such a course is sustainable.

I couldn’t disagree more profoundly. That approach is serving to injure and diminish the University of Vermont on a daily basis, as well as those who labor long and hard year- round to make it an academic showplace.

As you know, the Higher Education Trust Fund – created by the Legislature some years ago and charged with helping to fund higher education at various levels within the state – has traditionally provided the University (as well as the State College system) with a substantial yearly contribution, to be matched by UVM and deposited directly into the University’s endowment. This year the University’s share of that contribution is estimated at roughly $182,408. Yet the contribution is not automatic; it must be authorized yearly by a subcommittee of the Pre-K to 16 Council. I was recently appointed by Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell to both the Council and the relevant sub-committee.

While that sub-committee has never refused to authorize these funds to my knowledge, neither was it intended as a rubber stamp. The fact that a vote is required at all implies that a negative decision just might, on rare occasions, better serve the interests of higher education in Vermont.

That is exactly the position in which I find myself: I will vote this week to withhold this year’s portion of the Trust Fund from the University of Vermont, until such time as the Trustee’s newly empanelled committee on executive compensation returns its findings and recommendations. It is my hope that the board will then enact meaningful executive compensation reform, through its own deliberative process, well in advance of negotiations with the incoming President.

But if not, I cannot conscience the direct transfer of taxpayer funds into an endowment, and a general University economy, managed with such open and continuing disregard for frugality, equity, and justice.

And I should make clear that I will seek as well to divide the question, in our committee discussion, allowing me to vote simultaneously to authorize funds for the State Colleges, whose executive compensation is all but a model by comparison.

As you know perhaps better than anyone, there was a time when sustainable, green buildings were viewed as fanciful and cost-prohibitive by the Board. Today, student tour guides boast of the Davis Center’s LEED Gold certification to prospective students and their parents, and the parents are impressed – I know because I hear these tours from my office window almost every day. In this and in other ways, green buildings pay for themselves. That is the true meaning of the word sustainable.

The University could make a similar selling point, say, of a certain low fixed ratio between the salary of its President and the salary of its lowest-paid employee. Cost-conscious parents would be impressed, and their concerns about rapidly rising tuition would be mollified. Would we land a new University President intent on being paid more than the President of the United States? Probably not – but we would certainly wind up with a woman or man committed to true frugality, to equity and shared sacrifice, a sustainable President to match the sustainable workforce you seek.

And in so doing, the University of Vermont would begin to lead and reform the national academic marketplace, rather than continue to claim to be held hostage by it.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, and in advance for passing on my concerns to your fellow Trustees. I can be reached at any of the contact numbers below, should you wish to discuss any of these points further.

Yours sincerely,

September 7th, 2011

In Which VDB Has A Super-Chummy Heart To Heart With Obama Campaign Manager, Jim Messina (But Just “Messina” To VDB)

by Philip Baruth

When the emails from the Obama campaign roll in, they’re always signed “Barack” and “Joe” and “Messina,” which is actually Campaign Manager Jim Messina’s last name, which is, like, even more intimate, you know? Like we’re buddies — tight buddies, like we’ve known one another since first grade, got blitzkrieged on Mad Dog 20/20 and Blackberry Boone’s Farm when we were in ninth, and our sisters eventually grew up and married our brothers. The latest super-intimate and tight exchange:

Philip –

Here’s something you and I weren’t supposed to find out:

At a private function at a Colorado resort, oil billionaire Charles Koch stood in front of hundreds of conservative millionaires and said the 2012 election will be, in the words of Saddam Hussein — yes, he decided to quote Saddam Hussein — “the mother of all wars.”

He then read through a list of 32 contributors who gave more than a million dollars each to bankroll the network of corporate special-interest groups that aim to tear down President Obama.

If that offends you, it absolutely should. But it should also motivate you, because you are the only thing that can stop them.

Can you make a donation of $190 or more right now?

I’d rather not spend time talking about this kind of gutter politics, but one simple fact makes it impossible to brush aside: special-interest groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC have already pledged to pour nearly $200 million into attacking the President in the coming months — and more shadowy groups file paperwork and start running ads every week.

Right now, the President is focused on creating jobs and improving the lives of middle-class families. And this campaign will keep doing what we’ve been doing from the very beginning: growing a truly grassroots organization that’s doing politics a different way, and encouraging as many people as possible to take ownership of this campaign as early as possible. It has to start with you.

The Koch brothers and the front groups they fund have decided on the tone they want the election to take in the coming months — and we should expect these kinds of smears to only get worse.

But we still have a say about the kind of race we want to run and the kind of political climate we want to create. Take a stand now to support it.

Donate $190 or more today:



Jim Messina
Campaign Manager
Obama for America


Good to hear from you, hombre — long time no Messina. And good gosh! You’re right! I’m pretty darn offended that one of the Koch brothers used language other than what the Sunday Shows might consider appropriate in tone!

And I’d be happy to drop Barack $190, just as soon as one of you takes the time and the energy to write an email that also happens to contain one single solitary particle or molecule of policy. Forget a molecule. I’ll take an atom, one free-standing atom of policy, one solitary indication of what, precisely, you plan to do if re-elected.

Last time out, you promised you’d shutter Guantanamo, repeal the Bush tax cuts, end warrentless wiretapping — lots of stuff I really wanted to see happen in the real world.

Last time I gave you money, and time, and sweat and tears. Of course, Barack hasn’t done any of those things, but he’s been busy, I know, getting entitlements on the table and keeping them there.

So let’s put it this way, between friends, and I mean between tight buddies like us: when you run a real campaign, and Obama governs like a real Democrat, I’ll respond in kind. Seriously, I’ll get fired up and shit. But ignoring Wisconsin when the fires are burning, and then promising to stand with Labor on the following Labor Day? That’s entirely weak, brother.

Tell Barack and Joe and the Davids I said wassup. And don’t forget that $20 you owe me from Philadelphia.

Now get out of here, you crazy kid,


September 2nd, 2011

Dan DeWalt Brings It One More Time: The Positively Charged Music Festival Comes To Amazing Planet Farm To Close Down VY

by Philip Baruth

At a certain point back in June of 1969, the question became: Dude — You heading out to Woodstock? Typically this question was followed by the question: What’s Woodstock? But by the end of August 1969, everyone in the nation knew their Woodstock. In 2011, in the state of Vermont, it’s more like this: Dude — you heading down to Amazing Planet Farm? What’s going on at Amazing Planet Farm? Glad you asked (as it gives this the flavor of a dialogue).

It’s called the Positively Charged Music Festival, and it features seven major Vermont bands: The Pulse Prophets from Burlington, The Eames Brothers Band from Montpelier, Simba, Mo Ambesa, and Clayton Sabine from Windham county, Shokazoba from Northampton, and High Fidelity with King I hailing out of New Hampshire.

And on Saturday, September 17, they’re all headed en masse to the lovely town of Newfane. Starts at 2 pm, ends at 8. (And if you believe that everything will be quiet by 8, VDB has some prime Florida real estate to show you.)

And the point of it all, in case we forgot to mention it? Shutting down Vermont Yankee.

All of this is the brainchild of activist Dan DeWalt, who has done more than his share to make Entergy’s last five years in the state of Vermont a very rough five years indeed.

Suffice it to say that this Music Festival isn’t the be all and end all of DeWalt’s strategy for the coming year. No, no. It’s only the beginning of what he’s calling a “people’s movement” to take “direct action to defend Vermont.”

Just another day VDB is glad not to be J. Wayne Leonard.

September 1st, 2011


by Philip Baruth

As many of you already know, Chittenden County didn’t take as bad a hit from Irene as those further to the South, generally speaking. But specifically speaking, Richmond — one of VDB’s favorite towns of all time — took a true beating when the river crested. Spent a day out there today, helping with the clean-up, and it’s a very dirty job, a job that won’t be complete for a long time. A really long, long time.

So if you’re looking to help out, but just don’t know where exactly to go, they need you tomorrow in Richmond. That is, Thursday, the 1st of September. The river left behind a foot of thick sludgy silt in basements, and everything the water ruined has to be brought out and up into the light, separated out into heartbreaking piles to salvage or trash. And all of that takes lots of hands and strong backs. Manned the bucket brigade today, and it’s dirty work.

Dirty work, but work you’re certain, every single second, is really helping. So if you can help out tomorrow in Richmond, here are two options: you can show up at 4 pm at the Town Center on Bridge Street, where Representative Anne O’Brien will deploy you as needed; or you can follow this link to other locations and places to help.

If you’ve got a free afternoon, or you can cut out of work early, you’ll be sorely needed, take VDB’s word. And our thanks, in advance.

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