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Spring Has Sprung! 

Inside Track

Yes, those were the first songbirds of the season you heard at sunrise this morning. The long silent winter is over. Congratulations, you made it through!

With the bird traffic increasing daily, the sunrise symphony will reach a full-blown crescendo in a couple of weeks. You may recall a few years ago we reported one Burlingtonian filed a noise complaint with the police because of the early morning chirping. I’m not kidding.

Burlap is quite the popular stopping off place as birds from down country head north to raise their families in Canada. And songbirds aren’t the only creatures heading north this year.

Spring usually brings a new round of political activism in the Green Mountains. This year the protest season will kick off shortly as the Organization of American States (OAS) convenes its third “Summit of the Americas” in Quebec City starting April 20. The hot item on the agenda is the proposed “Free Trade Area of the Americas” (FTAA). Thousands of anti-globalization protesters are expected and many will be traveling through Vermont. In fact, Burlington has been designated as a “convergence center” for activists heading for the festivities north of the border.

The FTAA is a scheme to extend the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which currently involves just the U.S., Canada and Mexico, to the rest of the Western Hemisphere by 2005. (Cuba, naturally, is excluded. It appears that as long as Fidel Castro is alive, the kings of American capitalism won’t recognize Cuba for any purpose other than snatching talented Cuban baseball players for the major leagues.)

The FTAA, say opponents, would be a big plus for corporations and a big minus for human rights and the environment throughout the hemisphere.

Canada is expected to do its best to keep as many globalization protesters as possible on our side of the border. That means overtime for Vermont law enforcement. Things could get a little hairy up at the Highgate border crossing before the festivities are over.

Vermont State Police Captain Kerry Sleeper told Seven Days, “We will be prepared.” Sleeper said local, state and federal law enforcement officials have already been meeting to prepare for the FTAA protests.

“Vermont law enforcement,” noted the 23-year veteran proudly, “has an excellent reputation of dealing with demonstrators and affording them the right to demonstrate lawfully.”

But organizers tell us some law enforcement agencies have crossed the line on snooping. There are reports of UVM police questioning student activists, and one local activist/organizer received an interesting telephone call recently from a U.S. Customs investigator.

S’ra Desantis, who described herself as an “organic farmer, student and activist,” told Seven Days she got a phone call from a “very friendly” U.S. Customs official about 10 days ago. She said Bob Lussier told her he wasn’t looking for any trouble. He just wanted “to work with me,” she said, and to garner information. Desantis said she told him to call her lawyer and promptly hung up.

Lussier, the local resident agent in charge at U.S. Customs, told Seven Days Tuesday, “It had come to my attention Desantis was one of the organizers,” of the upcoming globalization protest. “I reached out to her to work with her,” said Lussier, “and she blew me off and said talk to my lawyer.”

Agent Lussier said he recognizes and respects the right of the activists to protest. His concern, he said, is safety and “making sure nobody gets hurt.”

Desantis told us she believes Lussier’s concern runs deeper and that he was merely snooping around to gather intelligence and “make our FBI files a little larger. They’re trying to infiltrate,” she said. “They’re not trying to work with us.”

According to Anne Petermann of the local Native Forest Network office in Burlap, April will be globalization month in these parts, with teach-ins and rallies scheduled for both Burlington and Montpeculiar. As for how many out-of-staters might end up in town, Petermann said her “guesstimate” is between 500 and 3000.

Cool. Should be a boost for the local economy. You’d think the Chamber of Commerce would be a co-sponsor?

There’s plenty of information available online concerning the upcoming Quebec summit. We recommend the official site of the Organization of the Americas at and the Summit of the Americas site at www.summit—americas. org. For tons of information about globalization issues and the protests, check out and www.vermontactionnetwork. org. Happy surfing!

Speaking of the Chamber — We ran into Wayne Roberts at Monday’s Legislative Breakfast at the Sheraton. The one where Sen. Cheryl Rivers (D-Windsor) stole the show with her delightful version of the “Straight-Talk Express.” More on that later. Wayne’s the president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the recent 10-day Vermont Trade Mission to Argentina and Brazil. Leading the tour was Gov. Howard Dean.

While the business types met with their counterparts, Wayno and Ho-Ho met with politicos — mayors and governors as well as Argentina’s head-of-state, he said. Gov. Dean “was extremely up-to-date on international affairs, deflation, inflation and monetary policies,” said Wayne.

In Brazil, he said, the Vermont dignitaries traveled in “armored cars.” The biggest industry in Brazil, said Wayne, is installing armored plating in the cars of the rich and famous. Sounds like fun!

Also making the trip was Skip Vallee, Vermont’s Republican national committeeman and the guy who spent $123,000 in his unsuccessful bid for a state senate seat from Chittenden County last fall. Gasoline Vallee owns the Maplefields mini-mart chain — the one with the fresh flowers in the bathrooms. But it was Skip’s environmental clean-up company, Twin State Environmental, that he was pitching south of the border.

Mr. Vallee was a big fundraiser for George W. Bush, and his work for W. may shortly result, he said, in an appointment to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a federally chartered corporation that invests in developing countries. Maybe Gasoline Vallee will take his fresh-flowers-in-the-john technique to the Third World?

Speaking of Sen. Rivers — Ma Rivers, the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was on the breakfast panel Monday morning with Sen. Susan Bartlett (D-Lamoille), chair of appropriations, Rep. Dick Marron (R-Stowe), chair of Ways and Means, and Rep. Richard Westman (R-Cambridge), chair of House Appropriations. It was a proud moment for the Lamoille County delegation, but the lady from Windsor County stole the show. Rivers’ blunt honesty on the controversial issues of the day was as rare and refreshing as that experienced last year when U.S. Sen. John McCain hit town.

Everybody knows the new Republican Top Dogs in the House are desperate to come up with a legal scheme to eliminate the sharing pool established under Act 60 — the Equal Educational Opportunity Act. Ma Rivers’ message to Speaker Walt Freed?

“Send me a tax bill. I assure you that even though I may not agree with whatever the latest cockamamie plan of the week is from the House leadership, the Senate is very interested in simplifying Act 60 and passing changes that will make sure people get their income-sensitivity right off the tax bill.”

Last week’s “cockamamie” plan was authored by the House Squeaker, er, sorry, the House Speaker himself. The Dorset millionaire proposed a sales tax hike to bail out the well-to-do gold towners — his people. Brilliant?

“First of all,” said Rivers, “I’m from Windsor County. We hate the sales tax. It’s been hard on our economy. The notion that we’re going to raise taxes on ordinary Vermonters to give a tax break to second-home owners to fund an unconstitutional plan is pathetic as far as I’m concerned.”

Medical Marijuana Update — Yours truly was surprised by the strong, favorable reaction to last week’s coverage of the lost Drug War. Several readers shared deeply personal remembrances of watching a mom or dad suffer through chemotherapy on the agonizing road to the grave. They knew first-hand that marijuana actually provided significant relief for their sick parent. And they told us that nurses and doctors who deal with the dying every single day know it, too.

Also in the mailbox was this e-mail from Sanborne Dow, a South Burlington eightysomething. It was a copy of the one he’d sent to Rep. Tom Koch (R-Barre), chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee.

It seems virtually impossible for most legislators to realize that they will someday become old and suffer chronic pain, which might be made tolerable with a prescription of relatively harmless marijuana.

Act now while you are in a position of power. If you procrastinate until you are my age it will be too late.

Words of wisdom, eh?

The Party of Spite — They may well feel proud that they hung together and carried the day, but the conduct of the House Republican Caucus may very well haunt them all the way through the November 2002 election. That’s because last Thursday on the Ides of March, with Squeaker Freed presiding, the new Republican majority defined itself as the party of spite, pure and simple.

On an 84-55 vote, the bigoted anti-gay backlashers rammed through Rep. Peg Flory’s ridiculous little piece of vengeance — a bill defining in statute not what marriage “is,” but what it “is not.” With a Clintonesque twist of her tongue, Princess Peg proved it doesn’t matter what the meaning of “is” is. What really counts is the meaning of what “is not.”

There was a meanness in the Statehouse air as the GOP performed like crusaders for the intolerant Christian Right and its high priest in Vermont, Rev. David Stertzbach, of Trinity Baptist Church in Williston. You know, the congregation that believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible.

“Spite” was the Republican mission last Thursday — nothing more or less than an expression of their petty ill will. The party that is so quick to rise in opposition to flag burning enthusiastically engaged in “fag” burning. Their dirty deed of March 15 was payback for losing the civil-unions battle last year, in which homosexual couples were granted the same rights and benefits as straight couples. Princess Peg’s bill was a bigoted insult to the thousands of gay and lesbian Vermonters who are our neighbors and our friends. For one dark evening, with Speaker Freed keeping the House in session after dinner, the Republican majority sold its soul and took Vermont backwards.

In 15 years of covering the Vermont Statehouse, we have never witnessed such a stupid exercise before. And “stupid” is the operative word here.

It must be noted, however, that four honorable Republicans refused to go along with the spiteful mob: Reps. Dick Marron of Stowe, Ed Amidon of Charlotte, Tom Little of Shelburne and Malcolm Severance of Colchester. Two are attorneys, one’s a former economics professor at UVM and the other, a graduate of UVM and NYU Law School, operates a popular Stowe resort. They are respectful, thoughtful and intelligent people. Unfortunately for this year’s aberrant Republican majority in the House, those are the qualities in shortest supply.

When the GOP’s dirty deed was done, Rep. Ed Paquin (D-Fairfax) rose from his wheelchair to eloquently tell the House, “Anyone who wants an accurate characterization of my position on how marriage should be defined can note that at least twice last year I voted affirmatively that it is a union of one man and one woman. My view,” said Paquin, “has not changed, nor has my support of civil union, but I won’t participate in a transparently political attempt to administer salt to a barely healing wound.”

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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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