May 29th, 2012

Shameful Tales of the “Nuclear Village”

by Philip Baruth

You may remember that Japan’s Prime Minister during the initial phase of the Fukushima crisis, Naoto Kan, stepped down as more damning facts about the disaster were revealed. Well, Kan is back, and apparently he’s pissed: he told parliamentary investigators yesterday that he was kept in the dark and misled by the plants’ operator, Tokyo Electric Power, and that the “nuclear village” (the industry and its lobbyists) still shows “no remorse” and are now pushing to restart Japan’s many reactors without proper safety checks. “Experiencing the accident,” Kan went on, “convinced me that the best way to make nuclear plants safe is not to rely on them, but rather to get rid of them.”

This, remember, from the guy who was running the country at the time. And this on the same day as reports of radioactive blue fin tuna making the journey from the waters off Japan to the waters off San Francisco, “unequivocal” evidence of global contamination from the debacle.

Lovely. Just lovely.

May 29th, 2012

Bill Clinton, Porn Stars, and The Case of the Vanishing Vice President of NMS Services

by Philip Baruth

Last week, the world was atwitter — literally — over a single unexpected tweet from Monaco, a photo from the Twitter account of porn actress Brooklyn Lee, described in the accounts to follow as the winner of this year’s “best new starlet” award. Lee, it turned out, had posed for a photo with ex-President Bill Clinton, said photo also including Lee’s friend and colleague, Tasha Reign. An easy two-day dust-up in the cable world: Clinton, porn, Monaco — and the inevitably tight-lipped refusal to comment by our current Secretary of State. And of course given our longtime fascination with Clinton, VDB gave the photo a look too.

But we saw something different. Few of the stories about the photo over the last week have mentioned the third woman in the frame, the taller blonde to the far left.

Her name? Jennifer Taule, Vice President of Marketing at NMS Management Services Inc. What is NMS Inc.? A drug testing company, as in a company that markets both the concept and the hardware involved in drug testing — with a particular emphasis on drug testing students. One of their best-selling products:

NMS also does DNA typing, and “wellness programs” that include large-scale implementation of Flu/H1N1 vaccines. So while most of the world was focused on Bill Clinton’s hands and the four well-known mammary glands in their immediate vicinity, the larger story went unreported: why was the VP of Marketing at NMS, a company with its fingers in a growing number of public health pies, partying like it was 1999 with Bill Clinton and a duo of very marketable porn stars?

VDB has absolutely no idea. And we have no idea why no one seemed to find this aspect of the story worth more than a casual mention.

But that is, of course, the way of the cable news world: tales of crony capitalism vanish in an instant, while any casual intersection of sex and Twitter lives on forever.

May 24th, 2012

Attention Delegates To the State Democratic Convention: Allow VDB to Introduce Jill

by Philip Baruth

So longtime readers will remember that back in 2008, VDB was locked in a death-struggle to win a delegate spot to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. As it happened, you folks helped us pull out a very narrow win, and we went on to document the scene for the Free Press, as their Designated Blogger. A dream come true. With one sharp disappointment: my good friend Jill Michaels, locked in the same death-struggle, came up a few votes shy.

When no one was looking, Jill stormed the 2008 podium.

Jill eventually made it out to Denver as a volunteer, which was wonderful, but the Vermont delegation itself could have benefitted from her experience, her wisdom, and her raucous sense of humor.

And it still can.

Jill is running again for a delegate’s slot at this weekend’s state convention, and she’s campaigning hard. Last time out, we leaned heavily on younger voices, in deference to the Obama’s campaign’s message of Hope and Change. This time, we’re all a little older and a little wiser, and VDB can only hope that those attending and voting at the convention will give Jill their undivided attention, because she’s the sort who’s been helping to drive our party for decades, through the fat years and the lean years both.

Jill’s trademark politicking hat.

So, below, a few responses to a short questionnaire we ran last time out, to give a sense of candidates vying to go to Denver. Jill actually wants to go to Charlotte, North Carolina, this time out — but the heart of it all remains the same. Bueno suerte, Jill.

The Parade of Delegates: Michaels Edition
Jill Michaels

Location: My home and home office are in a small cottage on the “Main Street” in South Strafford, or the “lower village” as it is called by locals. My husband and I have been here for 17 years this summer, having moved to Vermont two years earlier from Philadelphia.

For those who don’t know Strafford, it is a town of 1,000 people about 15 miles from the intersection of I89 and I91 – a part of the “Upper Valley” of Vermont and New Hampshire. We are also home to Ned Coffin, and until recently his wife, the legendary Democratic activist Vi Coffin. Thanks in large part to Ned and Vi, Strafford regularly has the highest per capita voter turnout and the highest per capita vote total for progressive Democrats in the state.

Interests: It must be clear that politics, public policy and supporting community participation are my passions in the public arena. In my working life I harness that passion in economic development projects, including job creation, business recruitment, and community-supported real estate development – especially in downtowns and village centers. I am a voracious reader, an ever-evolving gardener, and a long time supporter of CSAs, coops and the local food movement. I am also committed to my family (including two grandsons).

What Brought You Home to VDB: Just as I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot (in front of Smokey Joe’s — a men’s-only hang out on the University of Pennsylvania Campus that has since been razed), I know the moment I first met VDB. It was when Tom Elliot, a staffer in Matt Dunne’s campaign for Lt. Governor, sent me the article headlined “The Cheetah” — still one of VDB’s best efforts.

Current Political Talking Points: I began my working life as a community organizer in the low-income and minority neighborhoods of Philadelphia and my political activity in what was then known as the “bloody fifth ward” of that city. Even though I am a woman “of a certain age” who might be expected to support Hillary Clinton, my days as an organizer meant that I was attracted immediately to Obama’s brilliant expansion of local community organizing strategies into a national movement.

And when he took that vision and incorporated the web-based fundraising and 50-state strategy of our own Howard Dean, I knew immediately that Barack Obama was very, very special.

I also could almost feel, even at a distance of 300+ miles, the enormous pride that the members of the Philadelphia communities I worked in so long ago were taking in seeing this smart and engaging man take the country by storm.

It didn’t take long for me to realize I had the opportunity to be a very small part of the dawn of a new era.

May 22nd, 2012

State of the Race: A Third of the Way Home

by Philip Baruth

A quick update on our first fundraiser of the 2012 re-election campaign: we’re about 1/3 of the way to our $15,000 July 1st goal, and many thanks to everyone who has helped us get to this point. Why do we need to raise so much? A single direct mailing to the Chittenden County voter universe can run $3,000 or $4,000, with lawn signs near the same amount. So just to speak once directly to voters in our County, and to get a lawn sign up on a tiny fraction of lawns, might cost half of what we’re trying to raise by mid-July. Or more even.

And that’s just for starters. Last time out, with the help of this online community, we raised the most from individuals, and the least from corporations (zero), of any candidate who ultimately took a seat in the Senate. That’s according to the watchdog folks at Common Cause.

Call VDB crazy, but we’d like to repeat in those categories. So if you can help take us closer to the halfway mark — if what we want to do in office is what you want done in office — it’d be much appreciated.

If you’ve already donated, then you’ve already received a thank you note, but one last thank you here, for helping us stay in the race. Because the pace is picking up, and it’s easy to get left behind.

May 21st, 2012

Governor Signs S.223, A Very Big Deal

by Philip Baruth

Last Wednesday the Governor signed what I consider to be one of the most important bills of the last session: S. 223, a bill that will dramatically increase coverage for families with an autistic or otherwise developmentally-delayed child. How dramatically? Prior to Wednesday, an autistic Vermonter was covered only until age 6 — and after that point, the family covered all costs, period. Post-Wednesday, coverage extends from 18 months to 21 years of age, and the spectrum of covered conditions has broadened significantly.

Perfect? No. But a huge change for the better. It was a bill I was proud to co-sponsor — before it seemed possible, let alone a done deal — but for which Washington County Senator Anthony Pollina and Addison County Senator Claire Ayer deserve a large part of the credit.

Renews your faith in the legislative process, and in government itself. Government can work, and work well, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably looking to profit from its failure. One man’s opinion.

A joyous occasion for all concerned. Best moment? When one of the kids in attendance sat down in the Governor’s chair, midway through the Governor’s speech, grabbed the ceremonial pen and moved to sign the bill. Shumlin, never slow, took the hint and wrapped it up. Beautiful.

[Thanks to Martha Frank of Vermont Family Network for the photo, and for helping to establish an online compendium of autism-related resources in the state. It’s a good link, if this is a crucial issue for you.]

May 20th, 2012

Another Installment In the Epic Existential Motorcycle Tour of Senator Joe Benning

by Philip Baruth

If you’re joining us en route, State Senator Joe Benning of Caledonia has been checking in with VDB while motorcycling cross-country and terrifying Middle America. The latest installment: horrible heat and avoiding the temptations of Sin City. — PB

Dear VDB,

Arrived in Needles, CA after doing what’s left of the famous Route 66 through the western part of Arizona. Temperature was 85 in Kingman, AZ when I ate breakfast at 6:30am. By the time I reached Needles it was 106. In Laughlin, NV it had reached 120 degrees and I was stopping every 20 miles for another bottle of water.

Twelve hours of riding in the desert heat does not make for a fun day.

Spent the night just north of Las Vegas. Rode through town just as the sun had gone down and the lights of the casinos against the desert’s dwindling light were remarkably brilliant. Fortunately I’m not a gambler and I wasn’t about to participate in any of the other sins of the city, especially with a Vermont Senate license plate on the bike! (Besides, I’m happily married.) I was also physically and mentally exhausted. That was yesterday.

This morning was motorcycling nirvana. Blue skies, upper 70’s for temperatures, and a tailwind to beat the band always make for great riding. But add in Utah Route’s 12 and 24 (which take in Zion and Bryce Canyons along the way) and you have what has to be the finest motorcycling experience of a lifetime. Those two roads are without doubt some of the best riding on the planet. I’ve ridden some pretty nice roads in Alaska, Newfoundland and everywhere in between, but these roads cause a grizzled biker to salivate.

The scenery is impossible to describe. Think Grand Canyon and the Badlands of South Dakota on steroids and Red Bull in the 24 ounce can. Anybody interested in scenery (whatever your form of transportation) needs to put these two roads on their list of must-see destinations.

Benning, far-left, in leathers at last year’s Summit.

Officially the bike is now pointed for home. It will take at least a week to get there, since going from Point A to Point B in a straight line is anathema to any serious motorcyclist.

Tomorrow I’ll check out Colorado and we’ll see how far I can make it before pulling in for the night.

Joe B.

May 13th, 2012

The Wind Beneath VDB’s Wings

by Philip Baruth

In case you missed it, we kicked off a re-election fundraiser this past week, now that the Legislature has finally risen. And because we tend toward the long form, that kick-off was accompanied by a long post, detailing why the last two years seem worth all the work involved in breaking into the Senate in the first place. But that long post also boiled down to this, really: staying in the Senate will be just as hard, maybe harder, and the time has come to ask you directly for help.

So if you can contribute and help us hit our July 15 fundraising goal, it would mean the world. Not to mention fast. And very, very much appreciated.

May 13th, 2012

Say It Ain’t So, Senator Kittell

by Philip Baruth

True, the Vermont Senate has only 30 members, but folks spend 9/10 of their time locked away in committee rooms. And so you come mostly to know your fellow committee members, and some of those few people become fast friends. Sara Kittell and I shared both the Education and Agriculture committees this past biennium, to my great delight. She has one of the truest hearts in the Senate, and the sharpest instincts for justice, bar none. And now she’s decided not to run again in November. Which is just plain wrong.

Sara, foreground, cover of Vermont Woman magazine.

Actually, this didn’t come as a shock: Sara had told me she planned to step down — seventeen years is a long time, and she has other fish to fry. But it will be a huge loss. Quick story: a group of us pushed long and hard to unionize childcare workers this past year, and we were stymied at every turn. Deadlocked 15-15, finally, with Phil Scott breaking the tie against us.

But later that night, out of nowhere, there was one moment where we suddenly prevailed. And it happened because Sara Kittell refused to sit down, and stood again and again to offer the amendment, until she convinced one lone Senator — Claire Ayer — to finally switch positions. It was a profile in courage (two profiles if we include Claire’s move, and we do) and it will remain my enduring memory of Senator Sara Kittell, leading that charge, winning that battle, whatever the outcome of this year’s war.

Vermont Woman asked the question: Can women make a difference? Sara provided the answer: absolutely.

Okay, one other memory: Sara, as Chair of Agriculture, brought in rag muffins every so often, which we hogged down with her brother’s maple syrup. Superior stuff. We’ll miss you, Sara. And the pregnant sows thank you too.

May 11th, 2012

Update THE WILD ONES: Caledonia Senator Joe Benning Takes The Harley X-Country, Terrorizing Middle America

by Philip Baruth

After confounding pundits with his several proposals to decriminalize marijuana and expand Vermont’s bottle bill, GOP Caledonia Senator Joe Benning marked the end of the legislative session by roaring off on his Harley for parts unknown. Just got this dispatch from South Carolina. Looks as though we’ll hear more from Joe as he navigates the nation, given the subject line: Senate Dispatch #1. — PB

Dear VDB,

Not sure about you, but personally I couldn’t wait to get out of Montpelier. It wasn’t that I didn’t like what we were doing there. The long, drawn-out delay at the end was having a direct impact on my planned vacation. I’ll also have to admit that I was tired of the four of us (VDB, Pollina, Galbraith and yours truly) being given just a bit more of the blame than we were entitled to for the acrimonious debate and schedule screw-ups.

I will have to say, however, that when we were sent into the Governor’s office to escort him to the Senate for his final speech, I took it as quite the honor when he said, “Oh no, they sent the trouble makers to get me!”

Ayup, made my year.

So I boarded the Harley and took off for parts south. Stopped in at Cedar Creek battlefield in Virginia on Senate business. I snuck some language into the capitol bill for a feasibility study to erect a monument to Vermont’s First Brigade, who fought there during the Civil War. Their struggle is depicted in the huge painting by Julian Scott that dominates the Cedar Creek Room in the Statehouse. They never got a monument.

Benning, far-left, in leathers at last year’s Summit.

I thought it would be a good thing to give them one to mark the Civil War’s sesquicentennial. After conferencing with the National Park Service representatives and getting a personal tour of the battlefield, I’m off in a southerly direction again.

Tonight I’m in Greenville, South Carolina, after touring the Cowpens Revolutionary War battlefield (Did I mention I’m a history nut?). Hope you got the picture of that nice red Harley sporting Senate 27 (the first legislative motorcycle license plate issued in Vermont) at the Welcome to South Carolina sign.

Tomorrow I’m aiming for Tallahassee, Florida, which is about 430 miles due south. Keep Vermont intact until I return.

– JB

May 8th, 2012

LATE BREAKING NEWS: VDB Is Finally Home From The Political Wars, And Suddenly It’s Re-Election Time In Vermont

by Philip Baruth

It seems like a nanosecond since I came to you, hat in hand, to ask for your support in breaking into the Vermont State Senate. It was May of 2009, seventeen months before the general election, an admittedly crazy time to enter into a race that ordinarily took just five months to run its course. But the logic was simple: the campaign needed time to talk to Chittenden County voters at the pace the issues demanded. And competing against a long slate of folks whose names were already household words wouldn’t be easy, especially in seventeen towns simultaneously.

But hundreds of you stepped forward to help, some of you time and time again. You threw parties and buttonholed your undecided friends,

And astoundingly enough, it worked. That barn got built. And sitting in the Senate has been, honestly, like a dream.

I’ve spent the last eighteen months working very hard and very passionately on all the issues we’ve talked about on this site over the years. Universal broadband and single-payer health care have both advanced by leaps and bounds; neither job is finished, but the early dollars and the enduring frameworks are falling into place.

Farm to Plate is now well into its own implementation phase, with a Local Foods Coordinator connecting farmers to markets full-time, an outcome we labored over on the Agriculture Committee for months. And because you can’t preserve the landscape without working it, we also passed the Working Landscape Bill this past session, directing $1.175 million to infrastructure and businesses that keep fields and forests in healthy, productive use.

Along with Washington County Senator and lead sponsor Anthony Pollina, I co-sponsored a bill to increase coverage for young people with autism. Prior to this year, for no morally defensible reason, coverage ended at age six.

And we were told, initially, that nothing could change that state of affairs. But with strong support in the House (from people like Chris Pearson, Jason Lorber and Kesha Ram) and the autism advocate community, S. 223 has dramatically changed that.

And from 2012 forward, families with an autistic child will have coverage until age 21. Not a perfect world, but vastly improved.

Similarly, it used to be the case that your child could be denied state-subsidized Pre-Kindergarten, if your community offered it and 10 other people were ahead of you in line. But as of last year, we lifted the caps on Pre-K and early education, so that now any Vermont kid whose community provides pre-K can get Pre-K. Period.

That was the first bill I reported on the Senate Floor for the Education Committee, and I didn’t stop pushing until Governor Shumlin signed it at a daycare in St. Albans.

Through the Senate Education Committee, I was able to work very directly on the problem of student debt, one of the least appreciated financial threats of our time. But while we passed a bill out of committee that would have provided a year of Early College to needy Vermont students — cutting their potential debt by 25% at a stroke — that bill died later in the process. Still, we laid the groundwork for dual enrollment, which we’ll hope to fund next session.

As some of you no doubt remember, I did my best to speak out early and often against excessive executive compensation, at UVM in particular.

And on Vermont Yankee, when it looked like the Legislature and the courts were deadlocked for the forseeable future, I joined with citizen activists to send Entergy one of the most powerful messages to date.

There’s more, more that got done, and more that has to be pushed again and again until it does get done. But this is the wonder and the craziness of the two-year term: almost every elected official in Vermont needs to start running for re-election only a year and a half or so after making it into office. So here I am, again, asking for your help.

I went back and looked at the promises I made you a little under two years ago, and one stands out above the others: I promised you an outspoken advocate in the Statehouse, a Senator who’d be your eyes and ears, who’d take actual stands, and one who wouldn’t back down when it mattered.

And honest to God, I think I’ve delivered on that.

All a way of saying that the Act Blue site is up and running again — accepting donations in a very simple, very secure way — and if you can help us raise the barn again, we’ll be eternally grateful.
Not to worry: there will be a more formal kick-off to this campaign, a party on a sunny day not too far in the future. And I’ll be talking with many of you in living rooms and coffee shops in the days to come.

But this rainy, raw day today is the day to start the tough task of raising the money to get the message out, and it’s much appreciated that you made it to the end of this long post without clicking away into the ether. Will update you on our progress as details warrant.

But for now, good friends: game on.

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