November 20th, 2011

Making Verizon Carry A New Message

by Philip Baruth

How beautiful is this? As Occupy Wall Street protesters were walking across the Brooklyn Bridge on Thursday night, a 99% “Bat Signal” started flashing messages across the Verizon Building near the East River. Where was it originating? An apartment in a housing project across the highway. And when it was over, the signal simply shut down. Direct confrontation, but purely visual, without a scintilla of damage to anyone or anything. Sheer genius.

November 18th, 2011

VDB Appears In Highly Prestigious “Did You Know?” Feature In Sunday Insert, Just Above Commemorative Bull Run Coins

by Philip Baruth

There are some things you wish your sainted grandmother could have lived to see. Unbeknownst to VDB, we cropped up in one of those cheesy Sunday magazines that give the Sunday paper heft. Which one? American Profile, which identifies itself as “Celebrating The American Spirit.” That’s right. So never let our patriotism be questioned ever again.

And the placement was not just anywhere in the insert, but in the uber-prestigious “Did You Know?” trivia column, featuring weird or quirky details from the 50 states, and situated just over the half-page ad for colorized Bull Run Commemorative coins. A position we now share with the creators of Curious George, so take that, Pulitzer Prize committee members. Many thanks to longtime VDB-reader Carol, down Brattleboro way, for her sharp eye and wit.

November 17th, 2011

Demand A Sustainable President: Free Press Op-Ed On Executive Compensation Reform

by Philip Baruth

Demand A Sustainable President

Keep your eye on the University of Vermont long enough, and you’ll notice one trend above all others: the campus erupts in scandal, those scandals produce statewide outrage, and then the President and the Board of Trustees snap into action – so long as the scandal doesn’t directly concern the President or the Board of Trustees.

Search your memory for recent UVM scandals, and then search it for changes those scandals produced. The binging scandal? UVM adopted a zero-tolerance policy concerning on-campus drinking. The hazing scandal? Then-President Judith Ramaley scratched the hockey season and announced – you see the pattern already – a zero-tolerance policy concerning hazing.

But outrage concerning UVM’s higher administration produces only more outrage.

When Dan Fogel refused to live in Engelsby House, the Trustees responded – with a housing allowance that eventually totaled a quarter of a million dollars. When an inappropriate relationship ended Fogel’s tenure, the Trustees responded – with lavish pay-outs that benefited all three of that scandal’s central players, including two asked to leave University service.

Yes, this has to do with an overly chummy relationship between the President and the Board, but there’s more: UVM’s Trustees remain committed to a corporate style of governance in which a premium is placed on downsizing, and those accomplishing the sharp reductions at the bottom are always “incentivized” with a healthy percentage of the savings.

At the corporate level, this is a strategy for the American executive class to survive globalization with their own benefits and prestige intact, and no less so at the University. We are now entering the fourth year of recession, but corporate profits are at record highs.

I’ll offer just one parallel statistic concerning UVM: In 2002 the University had three Vice Presidents, but by 2009 we had twenty-six.

Twenty-six Vice Presidents.

So one of the reasons the Trustees resist pressure to “rightsize” the total compensation of UVM’s President is that it casts an unwanted spotlight on an entire administrative culture of largesse. Reductions in the highest salary would necessitate reductions in pay for the VP’s just below, and so on.

Even the head-hunting firm UVM hired to find Fogel’s replacement is actually paid – well more than $200,000 – based on the incoming President’s projected salary. Each protects the next.

And when the Trustees eventually go public with a plan to pay the newcomer not less but more than the eye-popping figure Fogel received, they will argue that the compensation is pegged to that of higher-paid Presidents nationwide, and that therefore their hands as a Board are tied. They’ve already begun to hint that incoming candidates will be bringing their own lawyers to negotiations – another way of suggesting that reform is impossible.

But let me say this as simply as I can: Don’t believe them.

We can pay the incoming President less than Fogel received overall – and we should. We can eliminate housing allowances, performance bonuses and paid leaves upon termination – and we should. We can demand a sustainable President to match the sustainable workforce the Trustees are cutting so painfully to create. We can, but you – you reading these words – need to demand it now, before negotiations with the next President begin.

Vermont leads, and we can help to reform runaway Presidential salaries nationwide, rather than being held hostage by them. Let’s face the brutal facts – we are a nation mired in the Great Recession, and there are plenty of gifted fundraisers and savvy Provosts who would take on the President’s title for a good deal less.

That’s the deepest secret, of course, the truth that corporate America seeks to conceal above all else: if golden parachutes become suddenly unavailable, CEOs and University Presidents will eagerly compete for bronze.

Philip Baruth is a State Senator representing Chittenden County, and a Professor in the UVM English Department.

November 16th, 2011

Endorsement for Miro Weinberger

by Philip Baruth

In spite of an insanely long caucus this past Sunday, our work as Burlington Democrats isn’t quite finished. We’ll be holding one last final ballot sometime in the next several weeks to select a Mayoral nominee for the general election. The choice is between two excellent candidates, but I’ll be attending a press conference at 1:15 today in Contois Auditorium to announce my support for Miro. Don’t expect everyone to agree, of course — there are passionate feelings on all sides of this race — but I thought I’d share my thoughts with you all first, as in everything. — PB

Endorsement of Miro Weinberger
Sen. Philip Baruth

Let’s face facts: the Democratic Party in Vermont has a very, very deep bench. It’s not unusual at all for us to field four or five truly excellent candidates in the same primary. We are the party of Choice, and given the choice, we prefer lots and lots of choice. And after an historic 6-hour caucus last Sunday, we still have one final choice to make.

Both Miro Weinberger and Tim Ashe are young, energetic and capable. Both have extensive experience in municipal planning and building. I’ve known both for years, and I think of both as friends and colleagues.

But watching the mayoral race unfold, I’ve been deeply impressed by Miro’s ability to reach out and build relationships – with his supporters, and with his opponents and their supporters. He is a gifted leader, and one destined for great things because he inspires loyalty by demonstrating loyalty to others.

Miro came into the race with a specific financial plan for the city, a credible, workable plan, and given that our credit rating has taken a beating – and may take another in the near future – I found that plan reassuring. His campaign has been a model of organization and drive and competence. It will be a very powerful team to bring into the general election.

And in this particular mayoral race, in this particular year, Miro Weinberger brings one final absolutely crucial advantage into a head-to-head match-up with his Republican opponent: Miro can challenge Kurt Wright directly on Burlington Telecom – far and away the number one issue in this race.

Only Miro can point out what Kurt would prefer to have forgotten: that as Council President and a member of the city’s Finance Committee, Kurt Wright was very much present and voting when the dream of Burlington Telecom turned into a fiscal nightmare.

That’s a record that must be challenged. I was on the schoolboard when Burlington Telecom’s devaluation suddenly ripped a half-million dollar hole in our very carefully crafted budget. Miro has seen a similar disastrous ripple effect as head of the Airport Commission. And our Democratic nominee must be someone who can press that challenge, someone who offers a clean break with the decision-making that allowed the BT debacle to unfold.

Everyone but Mayor Kiss agrees that it’s time for broad-based change in City Hall, and I believe that this campaign is uniquely poised to deliver that scale of change.

You’ve seen Miro’s signs around town. They say, very simply, “A Fresh Start.” And that, in a nutshell, is why I’ll be working hard to make Miro Weinberger the next mayor of Burlington.

Thank you very much.

November 15th, 2011

So Clean, So Safe, So Reliable

by Philip Baruth

First photos inside the crippled nuclear plant at Fukushima. You remember, that doomed plant that has the same basic design as the one down in Vernon. The one that will render that end of that particular Japanese island uninhabitable for an extremely long time. Sobering stuff.

November 14th, 2011

Dems Once Again Pratfall To Victory

by Philip Baruth

People say Democrats are like cats, when it comes herding time, and also that we can screw up a free lunch, come noontime. But people are just dead wrong. The truth is that when we find a model that works, by God we stick to it. We put a Democrat in the Governor’s chair last time out, for instance, and how precisely did we do it? Way too many awesome candidates, competing head to head while the single Republican raised money and moved unhurriedly to the Center; a laborious, contentious recount; a Unity Rally without a candidate behind which to unify; and general kvetching and bedwetting at each and every stage of the game. A very successful gameplan, and one we’ll follow to the letter in this Burlington Mayor’s race. Onward.

Photo courtesy of Rich Nadworny.

November 11th, 2011

Santorum Has a Sandusky Problem

by Philip Baruth

At the heart of the Penn State molestation scandal is an Assistant Football Coach named Jerry Sandusky, who allegedly abused at least 8 young boys during his years with the program. Sandusky used charity work to recruit and groom his victims, and he was widely honored for that charity work. In fact, Sandusky was feted in 2002 by none other than Rick Santorum: “Then Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum thought enough of Jerry Sandusky nine years ago to sponsor the former Penn State defense coordinator for a ‘Congressional Angels in Adoption’ award, citing his work with a non-profit group he founded to provide care for foster children.” Which is precisely the sort of news you want hitting the fan eight or ten weeks prior to Iowa.

Granted, Santorum was fooled as were many others. But being a fool, and having your name linked with the least palatable scandal of the many currently in the mix? Only Santorum can ring both those bells with so little effort.

November 8th, 2011

Limbaugh Keeps It Classy

by Philip Baruth

As you may have heard, a fourth accuser has come out against Herman Cain, this time in great detail. But the GOP noise machine is determined to beat this rap on general principle, and push-back against the accusers continues — along with increased support for Cain. It’s an Alamo strategy, of course; the Party would not have nominated Cain pre-scandal, and it certainly won’t do so now.

But the idea is to show heart by pioneering new ground in PC-pushback. Case in point: Rush takes this last accuser’s surname as an opportunity to simulate oral sex.

And yes, you’re welcome.

October 31st, 2011

Rick Perry in NH: Live Free and Drink

by Philip Baruth

No doubt you’ve seen this video by now, as it went viral over the weekend, and occupied much of the blogosphere pre-Cain sexual harrassment imbroglio. But if you haven’t, it’s really worth a look. This is Rick Perry, speaking at a fundraiser in New Hampshire, and the flip thing to say after watching the video is that the man is drunk. But after watching it a few times, VDB has to say: he really is drunk. Happy drunk: winking, cutesy, tipsy. If you don’t have eight minutes, watch the stretch from 1:12 to 2:42. Shocking, in its way. Like Bush before he climbed onto the wagon.

October 28th, 2011

Chelsea Clinton May Well Step Up

by Philip Baruth

Best news of the week: Chelsea Clinton considering a run for Congress from Westchester County. Always had a big soft spot for this kid, and she proved she could take and deliver a punch during the 2008 primaries. That’s what VDB loves about the Democratic Party: we’re the Party of the young, and that gives us a perpetually deep bench. You go, Chelsea.

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