Until just a few days ago it looked like the Turkey Day list of things to be thankful for was not going to be very inspiring:
We're thankful for having such an incompetent, dishonest president.
We're thankful for being tricked by the White House into an endless, bloody war against a nation that posed no threat to our security in the first place.
We're thankful the U.S. occupation of Iraq has increased terrorist strikes worldwide and made us less safe.
We're thankful President George W. Bush's Republican Party controls both houses of Congress, so the president can continue to dodge accountability.
We're thankful that Sen. John Kerry didn't talk as plainly about Iraq when he was a candidate for president as he has in recent weeks.
We're thankful for the near doubling of fuel prices as the winter heating season begins.
C'mon, help me out here!
Even locally, things have been on a downswing following the Burlington funeral of another brave Vermont soldier -- the recent UVM graduate was sent to die in Iraq, a nation that had no WMDs, no poison gases and no nuclear weapons program.
Lt. Mark Procopio was a graduate of Burlington High School and the University of Vermont's ROTC program. His death brought the war close to home again.
Then, two days after the Procopio funeral, in the city's Old North End, a thief made off with writer Marc Estrin's front-porch antiwar banner in the middle of the night. On it Estrin kept an up-to-date count of U.S. war dead in Iraq. We wrote about it here back in August.
When his porch blanket first went up, the U.S. death toll was still in the hundreds, said Estrin. The last time he saw his banner, the count was at 2058.
No one's suggesting any connection between the funeral and the theft. Estrin admits he doesn't know if the nighttime disappearance was related to the banner's content or was the work of the proverbial "drunk college students" who have long been a part of the Queen City's cultural scene. Estrin told us last week that he and his partner were going to make another sign for their porch.
"It may turn out to be a war of attrition, but we're going to give it another try," said Marc.
This week, just before Thanksgiving, a new antiwar banner went up. The U.S. death toll has climbed to 2097. Nice to know somebody's keeping track, because many Americans believe our president hasn't been paying enough attention. And those Americans, an enormous silent majority, discovered a new voice last Thursday in the form of a 73-year-old conservative Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania whom few Vermonters had heard of -- Rep. John Murtha.
Murtha put in plain English what Democratic Party leaders, from DNC Chairman Howard Dean to Sens. John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, have so far been unable to do, i.e., articulate America's No. 1 problem clearly and concisely.
"The war in Iraq is not going as advertised," said Murtha at a solo Capitol Hill presser with a national cable TV audience. "It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of us. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course."
"A flawed policy wrapped in an illusion," eh? William Shakespeare couldn't top that. Talk about hitting the nail on the head!
Rep. Murtha, a United States Marine for 37 years with combat tours in Korea and Vietnam and the Purple Hearts to prove it, hit the draft-dodging White House leadership team with the most dangerous weapon in any arsenal -- the truth.
"The future of our military is at risk," said the American hero from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where even the airport is named after him. Johnstown, by the way, is a minor-league pro-hockey town that won fame in Paul Newman's timeless 1977 hockey flick, Slapshot.
"Our military and their families are stretched thin. Many say that the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on their third deployment. Recruitment is down," said Slapshot Murtha, "even as our military has lowered its standards."
He shoots! He scores! So much for the all-volunteer army, eh? Slapshot, in fact, is one of only two House members who voted to reinstate the draft, the system of military conscription during the Vietnam War generation and a big part of life for men now in their fifties, sixties and seventies. As everybody knows, George W. pulled strings to beat the draft, using family connections and influence to jump to the top of the Texas National Guard's approved recruitment list.
Vice-President Dick Cheney beat the draft by successfully getting deferments during his years of eligibility (18-26). Cheney has been the lead architect and champion of the flawed war policy, and he was quick to join other Republicans last week in questioning Murtha's patriotism.
But in what felt like a Hollywood moment, the 37-year Marine veteran spoke from the heart, and in doing so lifted the hearts of millions of fed-up Americans.
"I like guys who've never been there to criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and [have] never been there, and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."
Murtha praised Bush I, the current president's father, for listening to the opposition during the 1991 invasion of Kuwait that drove out Saddam Hussein's army. He noted Bush I did not launch an invasion of Iraq at the time -- the Iraqis were on the run -- because, "He told me he didn't want to occupy it and he didn't want to rebuild it."
Unfortunately, Bush II, a president who neither seeks the wisdom of the opposition nor the counsel of his own father, chose the very path his father wisely avoided. And, unfortunately for Iraq, the United States and the entire world, Bush II has been unable to successfully perform either occupation or rebuilding.
"Our military has done everything that has been asked of them," said America's newest and loudest patriotic voice from Pennsylvania. "The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It's time to bring the troops home!"
Jeff Weaver, chief of staff for Vermont's lone member of the House, Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders, told "Inside Track" this week that, despite Murtha's conservatism, the two lawmakers have worked well together in the past, securing funds for Vermont veterans.
"He was very helpful in getting us $1 million for veterans' health care in Colchester and for keeping track of Iraq veterans after they return home to Vermont," said Weaver.
As for Rep. Murtha's latest celebrity as the leading opponent of the Bush War in Iraq, Weaver, himself a Marine veteran, replied, "I think it shows the extent to which this policy is out of hand."
Finally, we can see the elusive light at the end of this horrible tunnel.
Thank you, John Murtha of Pennsylvania.
Rich Tarrant Watch -- Why is it that a multimillionaire Republican U.S. Senate candidate who made his money in software has a campaign website that's password-protected and unavailable for public viewing?
Check it out: http://www.tarrant06.com.
Strange campaign strategy: Don't use the Internet to win voter recognition.
Another War Front -- Longtime Burlington peace activist Robin Lloyd was arrested over the weekend in Georgia along with 39 other protesters. Activists have been flocking to Ft. Benning every year at this time to protest the infamous School of the Americas, where for decades the U.S. military has trained the soldiers of friendly Latin American nations in the arts of interrogation, torture and counter-insurgency warfare. Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Norriega is among the school's distinguished graduates.
In 1990, a Louisiana-born Catholic priest named Rev. Roy Bourgeois, a Vietnam vet and Maryknoll missionary, began the annual protests, and many of the protesters are religiously motivated. This year 19,000 showed up.
The sad truth is, in recent decades, U.S.-trained graduates of the Ft. Benning academy have been linked to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent Latin Americans. It is a history that the U.S. Congress, despite the efforts of Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Bernie Sanders, has thus far refused to examine. Sources on both staffs indicate the closing of the school, now renamed the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation," is not on either chamber's to-do list.
This was not Lloyd's first protest arrest. She was a member of the infamous "Winooski 44" who occupied U.S. Sen. Robert Stafford's office in 1982 to protest U.S. policy in Central America. In El Salvador, Jesuit priests had been murdered by Ft. Benning grads and American nuns kidnapped, raped and murdered. Lloyd and her codefendants successfully employed the "necessity defense" and were found not guilty of trespassing.
Lloyd told "Inside Track" that this time she has no expectation of avoiding jail time. Her trial is set for January 30. Robin said she's expecting to serve three months in the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut.
In Vermont, protesters are usually issued a citation with a court date. But Robin's Ft. Benning arrest led to the 67-year-old peace activist's first-ever night behind bars!
Lloyd described it as "terrifying." There were four in a cell meant for two, and the woman in the next cell, said Lloyd, "was screaming all night."
Moral of this story: You're never too old to stand up for peace. Check http://www.soaw.org for more info.
New Talent? -- Looks like Prog politician and radio talk-show host Anthony Pollina will no longer have Vermont's "Anthony" market cornered. A new face has popped up on the Vermont news scene.
Anthony Iarrapino (yarr-a-pee-no) has been all over the news recently, as the Conservation Law Foundation's new Vermont staff attorney. Anthony charges the Douglas administration is developing a new policy for keeping public records private by invoking a "deliberative process privilege." Even Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says no such "privilege" exists in Vermont law!
Iarrapino is a Lowell, Massachusetts, native and a Boston College history graduate. He picked up his lawyer credentials at Vermont Law School, which is gaining a reputation for the hard-nosed environmental attorneys it's turned out in recent years.
For the last two years Tony the Lawyer has been law clerk for Associate Supreme Court Justice Denise Johnson. And the two Anthonys got together Monday when Iarrapino appeared as a guest on Pollina's WDEV talk show.
Definitely worth a Tony award!
Media Notes -- Remember former Burlington Free Press editorial page editor David Awbrey? The native Kansan was in Vermont only briefly, as his Gannett editorial career flamed out in 2004 after several ethical and journalistic faux pas.
The news is, Awbrey's landed on his feet in Kansas, where he will soon become the new press spokesman for the Kansas State Department of Education!
Perfect spot for David. After all, just two weeks ago the Kansas board of education voted to approve new public school standards that cast doubt on the theory of human evolution and require students be taught the new theory of "intelligent design."
Oh, my God! Monkey see, monkey do?
Awbrey won fame at The Burlington Free Press for accepting free center-court tickets to a UVM playoff basketball game. He was caught by a front-page photo that featured Awbrey and other politically connected VIPs in the crystal-clear background of a Taylor Coppenrath jump shot.
Though Freeps executive editor Mike Townsend said David had violated the Gannett chain's ethics rules, Awbrey never admitted to an ethical lapse.
Three months later, Awbrey's departure was sealed by an editorial he wrote linking Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders to Wal-Mart. Anyone with a Vermont brain would have immediately laughed at such a suggestion, but Awbrey claimed Ol' Bernardo had secured federal highway funds that would benefit a Wal-Mart development in St. Albans, and in doing so was a big hypocrite!
Only problem was, the Kansas Jayhawk had gotten his Vermont interstate exits wrong. Bernie's $1.2 million federal highway grant was for a different exit.
It was the last editorial Awbrey wrote at the Freeps. His credibility destroyed, Mr. Awbrey departed Vermont shortly thereafter. Good to see he's landed a decent job, where credibility is not an issue. His Burlington Free Press editorial-page editorship was a valuable training ground for the job ahead.
Sen. Flanagan -- Like many Vermonters, our thoughts and prayers are with State Sen. Ed Flanagan, who at press time is recovering from undisclosed head injuries in the intensive care unit at the Mary Fanny.
Flanagan, a former state auditor and the first openly gay elected state official in the nation, slid off I-89 in Richmond late Friday night, missing a protective guard rail by inches. He landed upside-down and unconscious in a deep gully. Ed was not found until Saturday afternoon. A passing teen looking for deer spotted the mostly concealed wreck.
Life is a precious, fragile and fleeting gift. Ed Flanagan's close call is a vivid reminder. Maybe it's time to do that secret something you've been putting off?