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Battlefield Breakdown 

Inside Track

click to enlarge Producer Laura Bernardini and Chief Correspondent John King
  • Producer Laura Bernardini and Chief Correspondent John King

That’s the title of the CNN Special Investigation Unit Report that will air this coming Saturday evening — a powerful piece about how the Bush administration has so ineptly prepared and treated the American soldiers it has sent to fight and die in Iraq.

Yours truly got a heads-up and advance, not-yet-final cut via Federal Express Monday morning because of the “Vermont connection.” The distinguished senior producer on “Battlefield Breakdown” grew up in Burlington, Vermont, and is a graduate of Rice High School and the University of Vermont: Laura Bernardini. Her dad is now retired from the State of Vermont’s Department of Social Welfare, where he was a supervisor.

Laura’s uncle, she told us in a Tuesday interview, is Dick Bove, the Pearl Street restaurant owner and former Democratic city councilor in the 1970s. Dicky Bove, the man whose 1981 mayoral bid took enough votes away from Democratic incumbent Mayor Gordie Paquette to allow Independent upstart Bernie Sanders to claim a 10-vote victory!

In fact, Laura’s first “journalist” interview, she told “Inside Track,” was with Candidate Bernie Sanders in his 1990 bid for the U.S. House. She was a junior at Rice at the time.

What ever happened to Bernie Sanders, anyway?

“Battlefield Breakdown” is the first tell-it-like-it-is documentary we’ve seen by a major mainstream network that succeeds in finding out what is really going on in Iraq.

Through the mouths of current and former troops, the doc reveals the price American troops and families have paid for “the lack of planning” by the Bush adminsistration.

As one wounded Army Reserve Captain sent to fight in an non-armoured Humvee put it, the price is “dead Americans, crippled Americans. It’s a big price,” he told CNN.

Did you know that Humvees were never intended to be combat vehicles?

Yet that did not stop President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld from using them as such.

In fact, neither Rumsfeld nor his successor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, would talk to Bernardini’s CNN team about the Bush Defense Department’s glaring planning failures in Iraq and the poor treatment of the soldiers they publicly venerate.

Asked why CNN didn’t make more of Rumsfeld’s refusal to answer questions about his leadership, or lack thereof, while on the public payroll, Bernardini told us they “were not focused on the politics of whether or not we should be in Iraq. This piece is solely focused on the toll of a long-term commitment.”

Actually, the refusal of Rumsfeld and Gates to be questioned by CNN about the Bush administration’s pathetic planning for the Iraq war says a great deal.

“I’m not going to draw a conclusion,” said Bernardini. “We’ll let the piece stand for itself.”

Trust me, it does. And it will get a lot of attention.

“Battlefield Breakdown” will air this coming Saturday and Sunday evenings at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. And, yes, it’s well worth a watch.

It might even spark more mainstream news operations to do their duty in reporting the administration’s actual performance in executing our biggest foreign policy lie since Vietnam.

Nice work, Laura.


The Nub of It All — Yours truly hasn’t been listening to much AM radio since the November election. But we still have a duty to keep an eye on the Vermont political trail, and Monday morning Vermont Democratic Congressman Peter Welch was a guest on “Charlie & Ernie” (620 WVMT).

Before long we were reminded why we stopped listening. Because if someone says the sky is falling, well, damn, the sky must be falling!

We remember the good old days when “credible” scientists and doctors said cigarette smoking did not cause health problems. Everybody smoked!

Or how about when “credible” authorities said with straight faces that the brain of the Negro was intellectually inferior to that of the white Caucasian?

Those were the flashbacks floating through yours truly’s brain as WVMT’s chatterbox morning co-host Charlie Papillo took that doggone liberal Peter Welch to task before his right-wing audience on the “controversial” issue of global warming.

Charlie called global warming “something new that came up in Vermont this year.” He noted the Democratic-controlled legislature spent the first few weeks of the session holding hearings on the subject.

“I think global warming is a big issue,” said Congressman Welch, sensing the skepticism in Papillo’s voice. “It’s beyond dispute there is global warming.”

Not in Charlie’s World, folks.

“How do you say it’s beyond dispute?” asked Charlie. “I mean, we could get two scientists, two educated people in this studio to argue it, and I still think, after listening to both sides, you’d come out shaking your head. You have a tough time convincing me,” said Charlie to Vermont’s lone congressman, “it’s something that we, as humans, are causing.”

The conservative AM radio host did not deny world temperatures are rising, but scorned any suggestion human activity was causing it.

“Is it happening?” asked Charlie.

“Yes,” he answered himself. “It’s happening, but is it because of something that I’m doing or you’re doing or Dick Mazza’s doing driving a Corvette around?

“I don’t think so,” he scoffed.“I think it’s just simply happening. It’s cyclical.”

You mean like the Yankees’ world championships?

“I’ll be honest with you,” said the veteran Burlington-area radio personality, “the Democratic Party is trying to scare people into thinking that the sky’s falling and you need to support us.”

That explains it — global warming is a left-wing, Democratic Party conspiracy!

“I hate to say it, Charlie,” replied Welch the Dirty Democrat, “but there is a thing such a thing as global warming.” The ex-president pro tem of the Vermont Senate suggested, “We should stop arguing, in my view, if global warming exists. I think the evidence scientifically is overwhelming. We’ve got to be talking about what to do about it in a way that’s constructive for the economy.”

Nice try, Pedro, but Radio Charlie wasn’t buying it.

“This thought that we can change the climate by what we do,” said Charlie, “I think that’s where you lose a lot of people, cause we can’t.”

Hey, Charlie, tell it to the polar bears, eh?


Home From China — Even the Shanghai bureau chief for Forbes magazine noticed it — the rather skimpy size of the Vermont business delegation that joined Republican Gov. Jim Douglas on last week’s big trip to China.

“In reality,” Secretary of Commerce and Community Development Kevin Dorn told WDEV’s Mark Johnson Tuesday, “we would have liked more businesses to participate.” Dorn said the Chinese market “holds many mysteries to American businessmen and women.”

Vermont Public Radio’s John Dillon, however, aired a piece Monday featuring several Vermont business people in the environmentally friendly energy field who already have been to China.

Eric Beliveau of Optimal Energy in Bristol told VPR, “We have done quite a bit of work in China, consulting work for the Asian Development Bank, but we were not consulted by the governor in reference to his latest trip in China.”



Democrats See the “Light?” — There’s no sign Gov. Scissorhands’ rather skimpy China guest list will hurt him.

Instead, Democratic legislative leaders announced on Tuesday they are backing down on their scheduled nose-to-nose clash with the guv on July 11 regarding Douglas’ veto of H.520, their prize global-warming bill.

The Ds, reading the writing on the wall, realize they don’t have the two-thirds vote needed to override. So they’ve declared their plan to suspend the rules and withdraw what some would say is the most important item in the bill — its funding source.

It was to have been a tax on solar power generation and on Entergy’s Vermont Yankee nuclear power generation.

Looks like Entergy, its talented Statehouse lobbyists and its loudest champion Jim Douglas have won this one.



Battling Prosecutors? — That’s what it looks like as United States Attorney Tom Anderson has risen to the bait of Windsor County State’s Attorney Robert Sand. The issue: our current drug policy.

“Over the past several months,” writes Anderson in a recent op-ed in the Valley News, “there has been extensive press coverage of Windsor County State’s Attorney Robert Sand’s call for the legalization and/or decriminalization of all drugs, presumably to include not only marijuana but drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy, crack cocaine, LSD, GHB (the date-rape drug), and all other mind-altering substances.

“While legitimate debate is the cornerstone of our democracy,” states Vermont’s top federal prosecutor, “misguided debate neither educates nor informs. Legalization of these types of drugs is misguided, and Vermonters should forcefully reject it.

“The legalization of dangerous, addictive drugs will not make Vermont a safer and better place,” insisted Anderson. “Rather, it will create a Vermont that is dangerous, unattractive to business, less productive, a more expensive place to live, and a haven for a myriad of addicts and criminals.”

You can find the entire piece on the United States Attorney’s recently improved website at Look under June press releases.

Anderson’s op-ed prompted a swift response from the Windsor County prosecutor.

In his own piece published in the Valley News, State’s Attorney Sand expresses surprise that the federal prosecutor got his facts wrong and blatantly misrepresented his position. Sand makes it clear he has never called for the legalization of all drugs.

“This is not my position and has never been my position,” writes Sand. “Mr. Anderson knows this.

“I have never advocated for the full legalization of drugs. To do so would be reckless and irresponsible. I have said that the harm of our response to marijuana outweighs the harm of its use and marijuana should be removed from the criminal-justice system.”

According to Prosecutor Sand, “our current prohibitionist model creates great desperation among users — desperation that drives users toward the criminal market and fuels much of our drug crime. Finding an intelligent way to minimize that desperation and to undercut the criminal market is the only way to truly gain ground on this problem.

“Under a harm-reduction model,” Sand writes, “each substance would be evaluated separately to determine the harm of its use and the harm created by our approach to its use.”

For some currently illegal drugs, suggests State’s Attorney Sand, “the black market and related crime and violence that result from complete prohibition create more public harm than the use of the drug itself. For these drugs, we might adopt a non-criminal-justice approach, focusing on education, prevention and treatment. Marijuana falls into this category.”

Both men have also made it clear to yours truly that they have nothing but the highest respect for one another. Just a disagreement on drug policy.

At least respectable citizens are debating the matter in public.


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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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