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Looking for a Bright Side 

Inside Track

click to enlarge Adjutant Gen. Michael Dubie
  • Adjutant Gen. Michael Dubie

Antiwar U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders held his Monday presser this week with Vermont National Guard Adjutant Gen. Michael Dubie at his side. Ol’ Bernardo was touting a $3 million grant he’d secured for an outreach program to assist Vermont veterans of the senseless bloodbath in Iraq. Before the show, yours truly got a little one-on-one with the general.

Dubie, brother of Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, returned from an Iraq visit about six weeks ago.

“It’s very difficult to look out into the future,” said Gen. Dubie, “but I’m generally more optimistic than the average person.”

Part of the reason for his optimism, he said, comes from looking “at the metrics of what’s going on in Iraq. Things clearly are getting [better]. The violence is down. Across the board, the violence is down. So I’m encouraged.”

At least somebody is, eh?

“It’s not like I’m naive here,” said the general, “that I’m just taking the company line.”

The key to the whole shebang, Dubie said, will be for “the political process to work” in Iraq. And the key for the political process to work will be getting the “oil revenue channel” flowing.

“It’s just like anywhere,” said Gen. Dubie. “If you can’t get the money, you’re never going to have reconciliation.” The Sunnis, the Shias and the Kurds, he said, have to come to “some kind of arrangement” where they can share revenue and power and security.

At least Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, the one who didn’t have WMDs, the one we overthrew and executed, maintained a sense of order and stability, and Iraq’s economy functioned.

“He held it together,” replied Dubie, “but Tito did the same thing in Yugoslavia. Tito held it together with an iron fist.”

The head of the Vermont Guard said he was encouraged right now by what he was seeing.

“The political clock in this country is ticking,” acknowledged Gen. Dubie, “and I don’t know if the country has the political will to stay with this thing long enough for it to work. That’s my opinion.”

Thanks for sharing, but with all due respect, General, that’s a lot like the line we were hearing a whole lot back in the Vietnam War days of 1968: “If we just stay the course . . .”

And the hard question for Uncle Sam back then was the same as the hard question for Uncle Sam today: How many more American soldiers will be sent to fight and die for a lie?

Ballpark?

Because everybody knows, Saddam’s Iraq wasn’t any more of a threat to the United States of America than was Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnam.

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

Sanders’ View? — Near the end of the press conference with Vermont’s junior senator, the issue of the “politics” of our war in Iraq was raised. Gen. Dubie said in front of the TV cameras what he had said to yours truly in the mailroom earlier.

“I think the surge has been working. If you look at the metrics, the surge seems to be working.”

And what did Sen. Sanders think?

“Ah,” replied Sanders, showing some discomfort over the fact that he didn’t agree with Dubie. “The casualty rates are down. The amount of violence is down, but the goal of the surge was to bring about political reconciliation. That’s the goal,” he noted, “not to keep our troops in Iraq indefinitely.”

Our troops, noted Ol’ Bernardo, remain in Iraq “in very large numbers, and the situation in Afghanistan is not good.”

While only 80 Vermont Guard troops are in the battle zone today — the lowest number since George W. Bush launched what history books will record as America’s shameful criminal enterprise in Iraq — the Guard is preparing for another unit-size call-up in early 2008.

After all, under the rules in our democracy, as long as Republicans in the United States Senate use their votes to filibuster and hold 41 votes together, they can continue funding the Bush-Cheney bloodbath.

It’ll be interesting to see if a few GOP senators change their tunes, and their votes, after spending a little time at home for the holidays?

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

Health Care Solved? — This month, the Vermont television airwaves are full of the well-done, funny ads with the farmer saying how he’s “healthy as a horse” — just before the horse behind him keels over!

The TV ads, centerpiece of a $1.6 million marketing campaign (http://www.greenmountaincare.org), were unveiled recently at Rutland Regional Medical Center by a bipartisan contingent that included Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington and Democratic Rep. Harry Chen, M.D.

The pitch is to get uninsured Vermonters over 18 who’ve been uninsured for at least 12 months to contact Green Mountain Care and sign up for the highly touted Catamount health insurance plan. That’s the one which was agreed upon by both the Democratic leadership under the Golden Dome, who surrendered on single-payer, and the best friend the insurance industry has in Vermont: Gov. Jim Douglas.

But Cambridge, Vermont, physician and health-care-reform firebrand Dr. Deb Richter doesn’t fool easily. Yours truly asked the good doctor recently for her take on what the state’s leading politicians are touting as progress.

“The governor is right, Catamount is a very good insurance product,” answered Dr. Richter. “And it will be wonderful for the few thousand people the state can afford to subsidize. But it won’t do a thing for the tens of thousands of Vermonters who are struggling to pay for health insurance policies that have huge co-pays and deductibles and barely cover their needs,” she added. “The Catamount solution is akin to putting a high-quality Band-Aid on a wound that is getting larger by the day. It won’t solve the problem. But it will get the governor re-elected. And that is the point, isn’t it?”

Richter doesn’t mince words. And she’s part of a growing body of medical doctors across the country who also want America to join the rest of the civilized world with regard to health care. They have an increasingly active national organization called Physicians for a National Health Program (http://www.pnhp.org). These docs share the “radical” notion with docs in France, Britain, Spain and Canada that “health care is a human right.”

Vermont’s health-care reform “Joan of Arc” was promoting Michael Moore’s illuminating film Sicko around the state this summer and fall. The other evening she brought the flick to a student audience at the University of Vermony. Good crowd turned out — almost 400.

When it was over Richter asked, “How many of you have health insurance?”

Almost all the hands in the theater went up.

“And keep your hands up if you have health insurance for life,” she added.

All but two or three hands dropped.

“See, that’s the problem,” said Dr. Deb. “Everyone in every other industrialized nation is guaranteed health care for life.”

But the “real” shame, noted this Vermont doctor, wife and mother of a college-age kid — and who does make house calls — “is that we’re already spending enough money in total to cover every single American with comprehensive coverage, eye care, dental care, prescriptions, doctor, hospital, everything!”

The audience of tuition-laden college folk was paying very close attention.

“You have to know a couple numbers,” said Richter. “Of the total amount we’re spending in Vermont, one-third of it is for administrative costs. It has nothing to do with health care. Not with people taking your blood pressure or doing any kind of surgery. You don’t need all these people in administration.

“Put it all in one pot and there’s more than enough money,” said the good doctor. “So this whole idea that we can’t afford to cover every single person in America is bullshit, and we should call it that!”

The audience burst into applause. Who doesn’t like a doctor who talks straight? In fact, Richter’s straight talk has prompted a few to suggest the candidate-strapped Vermont Left consider her as gubernatorial material in 2008.

Richter says she’s not interested. At least not at the moment.

So if there’s more than enough money to cover everyone, why isn’t everyone covered?

“You have to wipe out the insurance industry from health care. It’s a little bit of a problem,” she said with a tinge of sarcasm.

Yes, indeed.

Only in America, eh?

When it comes to your health, the middle man comes first!

The horse may topple over in the million-dollar Catamount TV ad campaign, but Dr. Deb isn’t giving up. Richter is organizing her troops behind H.304, a bill that would at least provide some hospital coverage to all Vermonters. A foot in the door, though not in the operating room.

The bill is sponsored by Barre Town Republican Rep. Topper McFaun and former Democratic Speaker of the House Michael Obuchowski of Bellows Falls.

Interesting duo, eh?

P.S. If you haven’t seen Sicko because you think you know what it’s about, do yourself a favor this holiday season. Rent it. Buy it. Sit down and watch it. Mr. Moore’s best by far.

Only in America.

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

The Pot Thickens — Gov. Jim Douglas may have thought he was scoring points for next November when he jumped into the middle of the Great Windsor County Marijuana Case, but the pot and the plot are definitely thickening.

Martha Davis, a Woodstock Generation lawyer and part-time family court judge who called Fish & Wildlife over a dead deer, got popped for the 2 1/2 pounds and 32 small marijuana plants the officials discovered on her property.

State’s Attorney Bobby Sand, a decriminalization advocate, gave the first-time offender a shot at court diversion.

Gov. Douglas screamed bloody murder, jumped in, and declared that henceforth state law enforcement and federal agencies should bring first-time pot cases to the state attorney general.

That inspired a letter from 13 members of the Windsor County legislative delegation to the AG, urging him to ignore the guv’s directive.

Why?

Simple. Bobby Sand was elected by the people of the county to handle the prosecution of crime in that county. In this matter, Sand derives his just powers from the consent of the governed.

Gov. Douglas, they noted, does not.

“Please note that our concern has nothing to do with approval or disproval of our present drug laws,” the legislators noted. “By bringing charges and directing the defendant to Court Diversion in the case that precipitated the Governor’s directive, Mr. Sand is enforcing the existing law.”

Sand also picked up support this week from Franklin Billings Jr., a former chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court and, like Douglas, a Republican.

Billings told the Rutland Herald that the governor had crossed the line. Douglas has a right to speak his piece, said Billings.

“As a judge, I feel the prosecutor has the discretion, just as the judge has the discretion absent sentencing guidelines,” Billings said. “That is what they are elected for.”

Gov. Douglas was unavailable for the Rutland Herald article, but yours truly nailed him at an I-89 interstate rest area, where he was presiding over a free-WiFi “ribbon-cutting” presser the other day.

Gov. Douglas called the Windsor County pot case “an extraordinary situation” in which State’s Attorney Sand’s prosecutorial discretion “has been abused.”

“And I think it’s important for me as the executive authority with law-enforcement agencies reporting to me,” said the Guv to yours truly, “to ensure that the laws of Vermont are carried out fairly.”

Douglas suggested, “It’s simply unfair for someone in one county to be treated vastly different from someone somewhere else. There’s a perception of a double standard when a well-connected attorney and acting judge is treated generously in a situation like this. I believe I’m doing the right thing.”

On first blush, public-relations-wise, it looks like you are, Guv. But then the damn law and the Constitution get in the way, don’t they?

Jeezum crow. You’d think if we could adapt to same-sex marriage, the Woodstock Generation might have been able to demonstrate a little sanity by now when it comes to marijuana, instead of creating a vast criminal culture.

Hey, did you notice former Chickenbone Café bartender Greg Stevens’ arrest in Brooklyn, New York, for smuggling 340 pounds of grass across the Canadian border last year hidden in a tractor trailer?

A Burlington King Street fixture back in the 1980s and ’90s, Stevens did five years for the big Billy Greer Canadian hashish bust. Judge William Sessions revoked his release and gave Stevens 30 more months to serve. Greg’s 56 now.

We’re all paying his room and board . . . again.

Better world?

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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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