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Cheer Up! 

Inside Track

The price of gasoline and home heating oil is shooting up.

The Vermont Foodbank, which serves 14,000 low-income Vermonters, reported this week that its shelves are looking a lot barer than they did last winter.

And the Defense Department reported the death in Iraq this week of another Vermont soldier in the war that is based on the Big WMD Lie.

Private Adam Muller graduated Mount Mansfield Union High School in 2004 and served with the 10th Mountain Division. The Humvee on which he was a gunner drove over an IED and blew up.

“Our state has paid a heavy toll in this war,” said Republican Gov. Jim Douglas in a quickly released statement Tuesday morning. “We all pray it will end soon.”

But is there anything more than “pray,” dear Gov. Scissorhands, that we can do?

You bet there is.

Two hours later, GOP Jim proclaimed this to be “Hire a Veteran Month” in Vermont.

“Those currently serving our country, like those who served before them,” said Gov. Douglas, “have received extensive technical training and have routinely operated in highly technical and complex work environments.”

Obviously he didn’t catch Ch. 3 reporter Bianca Slota’s “live” report from Richmond on Tuesday’s noon news. According to WGOP, sorry, WCAX-TV News, Muller’s parents were “angry.” Their son had been assured when he signed up, Slota told viewers, that assignment to the Iraq war’s frontlines was “highly unlikely.”

Recently married, Muller received notice just two weeks before heading to Iraq that he would be a gunner on a Humvee, a job he was not trained for, she said.

It is a sad but true fact that, despite the Democrats winning back majorities in both the House and Senate last November, the Republicans, the president and the war machine still cling to power. Still no end to the Bush-Cheney debacle in sight, folks, other than the constitutional timeline that removes them from office in January 2009.

In fact, our madman in the Rose Garden continues beating the drums for war with neighboring Iran. And all this is going down as the leader of our nuclear-armed ally in Pakistan, President/General Pervez Musharraf, suspends democracy, declares military rule and imposes a “state of emergency.”

As we write “Inside Track” on Tuesday morning, we’re watching Vermont’s senior Senator Patrick J. Leahy dare to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, that everybody knows waterboarding is torture, and everybody knows torture is illegal — even if Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey doesn’t. And everybody knows “the United States has prosecuted crimes like waterboarding for 100 years!”

“Nothing is more fundamental in America,” noted Leahy, “than the fundamental principle that no one is above the law.

“This president and vice president should not be allowed to violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions,” said St. Patrick. “They should not be allowed to overturn more than 200 years of our nation’s human rights and moral leadership around the world.

“Have we stooped so low,” asked St. Patrick, his voice rising, “that America, the beacon to the world on human rights, doesn’t stand against torture?”

One-word answer: Yes.

That is the unfortunate truth about the current regime on Pennsylvania Avenue. It stands against anything that in any way threatens its grip on power. And the Bushies have 14 months left in office — barring the unforeseen and unexpected — to make things even worse!

Given the Bush regime’s public affection for torturing foreign prisoners, how do you think American soldiers will like facing the risk of capture by our enemies?

Think about it.

The committee voted 11-8 to approve Mukasey’s nomination to be our next attorney general, and sent it to the Senate floor for a final blessing.

*****************

The Sanders Warpath — Sen. Bernie Sanders held a Monday presser in downtown Burlap on the proposed purchase of Unicel by Verizon Cellular. With both Tom Torti of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce and Paul Burns of VPIRG at his side, Ol’ Bernardo announced an offensive to get the Federal Communications Commission to make Verizon accept certain “consumer-friendly” requirements, such as, God forbid, “100 percent geographical coverage.”

Hey, remember the days when phones had wires attached? And dials?

Not often do we catch the socialist, the chamber of commerce president, and the tree-hugger activist rubbing shoulders. And given the Bush-Cheney administration’s loyalty to Corporate America, Sanders and Torti have an uphill fight.

“What we’re asking is kind of unique,” acknowledged Sen. Sanders with a twinkle in his eye, “but I think we are right on the issues. We are going to look at all of the opportunities that we have in the Senate to make Verizon an offer they can’t refuse.”

“An offer they can’t refuse?” Bernie Sanders doing Don Corleone? What’s that supposed to mean, Senator?

“That means they have got to know that if they don’t treat Vermont fairly, we will do everything we can to try to stop this merger.

“That’s what it means,” said Ol’ Bernardo.

Understood.

We also asked Vermont’s junior senator about the deteriorating conditions in Pakistan and the despair felt by so many these days. It’s a scary world out there.

“Do we need to be worried,” we asked, “about Pakistan, a nuclear-armed dictatorship? About World War III just around the corner?”

“Yeah, we do,” answered Sanders frankly. “What you’re looking at is a huge country with a great deal of instability, where the president has now suspended the constitution and arrested hundreds of people; where you have a great deal of Islamic fundamentalism and, perhaps most frighteningly, this is a country that has nuclear weapons. So is it a scary situation?

“It is,” said Bernie.

Honest answer, eh?

*****************

On the “Socialism” Beat — When the post-World War II baby-boomer generation (1946-1964) was growing up, “socialism,” like “homosexuality,” was a word uttered either disparagingly or in hushed tones.

My, how times, customs and speech acceptance change!

Today we’re in the age of same-sex marriage, and a socialist can not only be elected mayor or congressman but also U.S. senator.

And this weekend, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders will deliver a keynote address in Atlanta, Georgia, to the national convention of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Don’t expect the network news to cover it. After all, who the hell are the Democratic Socialists of America?

According to its website — http://www.dsausa.org — they are the largest socialist organization in the United States and the principal affiliate of The Socialist International.

After his Monday presser, Ol’ Bernardo granted us a few minutes in his Church Street office for a little one-on-one about it. Other topics, too.

Sen. Sanders defines himself as “an Independent who, philosophically, is a democratic socialist.”

We noted we can both remember well the “old days” when being called a “socialist” was the equivalent of being called a “communist.” America in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s only had room for Democrats and Republicans. Nowadays, much has changed socially, politically and vocabulary-wise. Being publicly called a “socialist” is as acceptable as being called “gay” or “Republican.”

Sanders noted that no one calls countries like Finland or Sweden or even the United Kingdom, which have democratic socialist governments, “communist totalitarian societies.”

And while we never hear much about the accomplishments of democratic socialism, said Ol’ Bernardo with a smile, “We find many big businesses in this country who just love China, which is an authoritarian communist country!”

In fact, he said, “I find they want to move to China, they love China, which is authoritarian communist, but we don’t hear much about the countries where voter turnout is 70 to 80 percent, and which are, in many respects, more democratic than we are.”

Good point, eh?

“I think one of the things you have to understand is that if you look at Scandinavia, if you look at Europe,” said the Vermont socialist senator, “for decades now they have had democratic socialist governments in and out of power. And some of the accomplishments of those governments are really enormous, and they don’t get the credit they deserve.”

And what are those “accomplishments?”

“You go to Scandinavia right now, you’re going to find virtually no childhood poverty,” replied Sanders. “College education is free. They have good-quality national health-care programs, which guarantee health care to all people. The benefits that workers receive are far superior to what exists here in the United States of America, and in many respects the working people of those countries have a far higher standard of living than do American workers.”

The truth hurts, eh?

“What they have done in many European countries quite successfully,” said the Brooklyn-born socialist, “is merge strong governmental programs to protect working people with the dynamics of capitalism to create wealth, and that is what I think we have to strive for.”

The sad fact, said Ol’ Bernardo, is that today in our great country, “You have a runaway capitalism in which greed is the dominant mantra, where you have, by far, the most unfair distribution of wealth and income.”

Working people, he said, are “giving up” on the political process. “They just don’t see that their concerns are being addressed, while wealthy people buy and sell politicians.

“I think we have a lot to examine in Europe, and in the successes of democratic socialism,” Sanders said.

Sounds like Atlanta should be a treat.

One last question. For 10 months you’ve been going to work as a United States senator. How’s it going?

“The challenge is to prioritize,” replied Sen. Sanders, “because there are so many things that one can do, and you can’t do it all.”

Amen.

*****************

Opinions on Pot — Monday evening’s Ch. 3 report by Brian Joyce has stirred up some dust. He reported that Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell was critical of a county prosecutor’s decision to drop a felony charge for pot possession against a 62-year-old Windsor County lawyer.

According to Joyce, Sorrell said that “on the surface,” State’s Attorney Bobby Sand’s decision “doesn’t pass the straight-face test, giving a total pass for possession and cultivation of this much of an illegal drug.”

Joyce told viewers that Sand told him “all first-time offenders for pot possession get diversion.”

If that’s the case, Sorrell said, Windsor County is definitely the place for pot growers to move to.

That drew an email from pot-legalization advocate Sandy Ward, who wrote Sorrell (and copied yours truly along with a couple lawmakers). Ward recalled Sorrell’s support for medical-marijuana legislation back in 2002. She noted that the AG based his support for the bill on “the cost” to the state.

“One of the shortcomings of any interaction with the media,” Sorrell wrote back, “is that the reporter reports what you said that he/she believes best tells the story the reporter seeks to tell . . . I never said that attorney [Martha] Davis should go to jail. But two-plus pounds of pot on hand and a significant grow operation in place does not readily lend itself to the view that this was an innocent self-use situation.”

Sorrell also writes that he believes in “prosecutorial discretion and the obligation of prosecutors to seek justice, and not just prosecute everyone who commits antisocial and/or illegal acts.”

Still, he wonders about the message being sent.

“Does it seem just that two Vermonters living 10 miles apart in two different counties might be treated very differently for the same conduct?”

Good point.

Maybe Windsor County is merely pointing all of Vermont in the right direction, eh, General Billy?

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Bio:
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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