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Empire in Trouble 

Inside Track

Yours truly awoke Tuesday morning, turned on the radio, and heard 'DEV's Eric Michaels tell listeners that still more freshly severed heads have been found in Iraq!

What a great way to start off the day -- severed heads before breakfast!

Head removals are becoming a standard tactic in "liberated" and extremely unstable Iraq, a country where the good-natured expression "Don't lose your head" has a double meaning. In U.S.-occupied Iraq, humans are merely reminding humans everywhere just how humans behave in a lawless vacuum.

Thank you, President George W. Bush.

And as the natives settle their eye-for-an-eye scores, American troops remain sitting ducks for the roadside bombs of a faceless enemy that despises us. There's no end in sight, and Afghanistan is heating up, too.

Here at home, in our beloved nation of one-party rule, Republicans are suddenly running from President Bush like deer from a forest fire. The GOP is desperate to change the subject.

The United States' national debt is at a record level and soaring. New Orleans lays unprepared for the next big one. And the frightening truth about manmade global warming is starting to get out. But what is the Republican Party focused on?

How about the war on flag-burning and a constitutional ban on gay marriage!

Vermont's senior senator, Patrick J. Leahy, put it this way in remarks on the Senate floor as the same-sex marriage debate began this week.

"That we are devoting the precious few Floor days we have left in this session to this issue, when so many of us are trying to focus on solutions to high gas prices, the rising costs of health care, the ongoing situation in Iraq, and strengthening our national security, is a testament to the misplaced priorities of the Senate Republican leadership," said Sen. Leahy. "News reports have clearly revealed how this proposed constitutional amendment is being used to satisfy the most extreme right-wing supporters of Republican politicians. I do not believe that Americans are well served by this strategy."

Who does?

Vermont's other senator, the one-and-only Jim Jeffords, echoed St. Patrick's remarks.

Jeezum Jim said he was "very disappointed the Senate will again spend its time with a federal marriage amendment, rather than working to address the critical challenges that face our country, such as the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, global warming and the rising cost of health insurance. This partisan political maneuvering does not serve anyone well."

Well, let's be honest, folks. It does protect the radical regime in power, doesn't it?

The evidence is now clear: The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice Gang took power in 2001 determined to not only defend but extend the American Oil Empire.

Bad move.

History will record that King George II of America went to war in 2003 to secure the second-largest oil reserves (next to Saudi Arabia) on Planet Earth. He did so at a time when humanity was addicted to oil. And as a result of this addiction, humanity filled the Earth's atmosphere with carbon dioxide, raising the Earth's temperature, causing disastrous climate change and contributing to the deaths of millions. Sadly for the human victims and the planet, the tightly controlled corporate media looked the other way as the evidence became crystal-clear.

C'est la vie.

Sunday morning Al Gore, the candidate who won the popular vote but lost the 2000 presidential election, was the headliner on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." For the first 10 minutes, Gore spoke crisply and clearly about the number-one "inconvenient truth" on the planet: global warming. An Inconvenient Truth is also the title of Big Al's new film, a chilling expose of the greatest climate-change disaster in human history, a disaster happening unchecked as you read these words.

"The debate in the science community is over," said Mr. Gore.

Yet Stephanopoulos, a veteran Democratic political pretty-boy, pooh-poohed with absolute disdain Al's claims of ice sheets melting and sea levels rising more than just a couple inches.

Then George suddenly perked up, as he got to the topic he really wanted to discuss -- whether Al Gore is or is not running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination! That subject consumed the rest of the interview and the panel session that followed: Will Gore run for president?

Who cares, George?

As Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, put it, "It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it."

Until An Inconvenient Truth hits Vermont theater screens, you can find more about it here:


Graff Update -- The Vermont Press Association and Friends of Chris Graff are co-hosting a reception this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. honoring the veteran Vermont journalist. Admission is $15, and there will be a cash bar. Should be a lively crowd, and all fans of Mr. Graff and supporters of a free press in Vermont are invited!

As everyone in Vermont knows, the veteran AP Montpelier bureau chief was summarily and unfairly sacked back in March. Many, including yours truly and the entire Vermont congressional delegation as well as Gov. Jim Douglas, rallied unsuccessfully to his defense. The wire service has yet to announce a replacement.

OK. So the dust has started to settle and everyone's life goes on, including that of Mr. Graff. In addition to his continued hosting of "Vermont This Week" on Vermont Public Television, and a new weekly gig as a "news analyst" on Vermont Public Radio, Christopher is keeping very busy.

What's he doing?

He's enjoying a marvelous trip down memory lane and writing a book about it!

And not just any book, folks, but a book that covers in depth the remarkable political developments he witnessed in Vermont from the 1970s to the present. What a cast of characters!

With a Labor Day deadline, Chris says it should be on the shelf at your local bookstore by Christmas.

According to Mr. Graff, he "will cover the big events that you would expect, such as civil unions, Jim Jeffords' declaration of independence, and Howard Dean's presidential campaign, but it will also highlight the tenure of Govs. [Tom] Salmon, [Richard] Snelling and [Madeleine] Kunin. It will include sections looking back at how Vermont moved from a Republican state to a Democratic one." And yes, "There will be a chapter on Bernie," said Graff.

Old timers may recall that in the old days, there was no love lost between Bernie Sanders and the AP bureau chief. Should be an interesting chapter.

There's no title yet, said Chris. We'd suggest something along the lines of Vermont's Political Earthquake. Just might fit, eh?

Graff's book is being published by Thistle Hill Publications, based in North Pomfret. Coincidentally, North Pomfret happens to be the tiny Windsor County community where Chris grew up and still owns property.

Actor Jeff Daniels has already agreed to play him in the movie version, he joked.

But who will play Bernie?


Speaking of Bernie -- Sanders held his first press conference at his Burlington campaign HQ on Tuesday morning. Surrounded by eager young volunteers in red shirts, he responded to Republican Rich Tarrant's TV ad that suggests Ol' Bernardo is nothing but a screaming, table-pounding promoter of "partisan hatred."

Sanders reminded reporters of his four terms as Burlington's Independent mayor in the 1980s.

"As the mayor I never had a majority on the city council," Sanders reminded everyone. "I had to work year after year bringing Democrats and Republicans together in order to move Burlington forward. The proof is in the pudding," he said.

"We had enormous successes making Burlington one of the most livable cities in America," said Ol' Bernardo, "but I never had a majority on the city council." That's not a track record of partisan hatred, he insisted.

Good point.

But Richie Rich, with the personal fortune, is filling up the TV airwaves with his slick commercials. Does Sanders think he could lose this one?

"Do I take this campaign very seriously?" asked Sanders rhetorically.

"Sure," he answered.

"Do I think we're gonna win?

"Yeah, I do think we're gonna win."

Ali iacta est.


Inconvenient Truth II -- Warning! Don't let anyone look over your shoulder and catch you reading this section of "Inside Track." That's because it's about marijuana, an illegal Schedule1 drug. Last year in America, more people were arrested on marijuana charges than live in Vermont.

Two weeks ago, at the American Thoracic Society's 102nd International Conference in San Diego, a respected UCLA research physician delivered a bombshell research paper. It was all the more explosive since the researcher gets funding from our federal Drug Czar to discover what's dangerous about smoking marijuana, not what's good about it.

It was also a bombshell because Dr. Donald Tashkin of UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine examined a very large pool of longtime lung cancer patients and longtime pot smokers. The Woodstock Generation has aged, folks, and for many the marijuana, like the music, never ran out.

Dr. Tashkin was able to compare more than 1000 Los Angeles cancer patients with more than 1000 similarly aged healthy folks, including daily pot smokers who have consumed more than 22,000 joints in their lives!

The shockeroo is that none of the pot smokers, not even the heavy smokers, developed lung cancer. In fact, the UCLA researcher found that THC, the active ingredient in pot that tobacco doesn't have, had been found in studies to have "anti-tumor properties."


We first found a report of Dr. Tashkin's spectacular findings on the Fox News website. It also included -- ready for this? -- the views of distinguished University of Colorado professor and molecular biologist Dr. Robert Melamede.

Dr. Bob, as some readers will recall, previously taught at UVM and was a leader of the now-defunct Vermont Grassroots Party. An admitted daily pot smoker himself for decades, Dr. Melamede used his candidacies for U.S. Senate and U.S. House during the 1990s to echo the legalization point of view. Check out Dr. Bob's homepage:

Sure, 10 states have approved bills allowing sick and dying people to smoke dope, but the U.S. Supreme Court says "no." At this moment in history, there's little political support for treating grass just like booze -- outright legalization for adults. In the recent legislative session, only two House members had the courage to stand up and say it's time to get real about marijuana.

State Rep. Winston Dowland (P-Holland) introduced H. 390, a bill that would have removed "criminal and civil penalties for the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana by adults 21 years and older."

The fact that Rep. Dowland could only get one cosponsor -- veteran State Rep. David Deen (D-Westminster) -- is unfortunate. So is the fact that H. 309 received absolutely no attention, no public hearing, no discussion whatsoever.

Rep. Deen told "Inside Track" that marijuana "does not cause dependency any more or less than alcohol, does not by itself move anyone on to harder drug use, is helpful for people with nausea from chemo and pain from other invasive treatments, and now [it's] not cancer-causing. There's not much left to rail against," said Deen, "except, of course, that the war on drugs distracts the public from issues like war, environmental degradation, poverty and Americans without health insurance."

Dowland, a Vietnam vet, told "Inside Track" that cops tell him busting someone for a joint is a waste of their time and of state resources. Possession charges rarely bring more than a $50 fine in Vermont, less than the penalty for speeding.

If reelected in November, the Progressive from the Kingdom said he will reintroduce his pot-decriminalization bill. He hopes to have more sponsors, he told us.

Heck, if mainstream research indicates smoking pot doesn't even cause lung cancer, what is everyone so afraid of?


Kiss Zips Lips -- You know the theory about things happening in threes, right?

Well, we were thinking about that the other day, and Burlington's new Mayor Bob Kiss jumped into mind. He's already made off-the-cuff comments supporting a "sanctuary city" and instituting new handgun laws. Thinking "legalizing pot possession" might be the third Kiss revelation, we popped the question to the mayor Monday afternoon at City Hall.

Ah, yes, the new mayor is indeed getting wiser. He chuckled softly as we asked our question. Does he support fellow Progressive Dowland's bill? Rep. Kiss did, after all, support Progressive Rep. David Zuckerman's medical marijuana bill. It wasn't that much of a stretch to think Burlington's Woodstock Generation mayor might say what he really thinks.

But Kiss did not. We could almost see the roadblock go up inside his mayoral skull.

"I'm totally concentrated on working on the budget," he replied. "We're really aiming at fiscal integrity, and the people of Burlington understand there are issues around the retirement fund, adjusting the grand list and just meeting the cost of government that we have to achieve this year."

Sounds like Mayor Kiss is starting to get the hang of his new job, eh?


Correction -- Two weeks ago we incorrectly portrayed former Gen. Martha Rainville wearing "general bars on her collar."

Generals may drink in bars, but they do not wear them. Lieutenants do.

Generals wear stars.


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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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