Politics of Blame | Inside Track | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Politics of Blame 

Bernie Sanders

Published May 22, 2002 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated November 7, 2017 at 12:37 p.m.

Early indications are that this year’s Vermont election will offer a heavy dose of Republicans blaming Democrats for the falling sky.

The GOP’s gubernatorial hopeful Jim Douglas has radio and TV spots airing this week designed to strike fear into the hearts of every Vermont worker.

“Vermont’s economy is taking a turn for the worse,” warns Mr. Douglas in his deepest deep voice. “The future is clouded with uncertainty,” intones the Middlebury soothsayer. Montpeculiar’s bureaucrats appear “helpless,” he observes, before promising all of us — what else? — “a brighter future!”

Monday our favorite purveyor of cigarettes and gasoline echoed that same theme before Burlington Rotarians.

House Speaker Walter Freed (R-Dorset) and Senate President Peter Shumlin (D-Windham) were the featured speakers.

Mr. Freed diverted from his remarks about what the legislature’s doing to smugly blame Gov. Howard Dean and the Democrats for recent layoffs and rumors of pending layoffs at IBM’s Essex Junction campus.

“Not once in his [Budget] Address,” charged the Duke of Dorset, did Ho-Ho mention “jobs, job-growth, economic opportunity, expanding the economy. Perhaps,” said Wally sarcastically, “it was an oversight. But it shouldn’t wait until a rumor about IBM leaving that should drive us into thinking we need to do something.”

Broken English, but you get the point.

Shumlin spoke second and quickly responded to Freed’s low-road approach. He noted his sister and her husband have worked at IBM for 23 years.

“These families right now are facing tremendous uncertainty and tremendous pain,” said Shumlin, “and we should be joining them in ensuring that we’re doing everything in our power to keep job growth in this state and not exploiting their misfortune for political gain.”

Shumlin pointed to pending legislation that would provide tax incentives to high-tech companies that relocate here.

“That solution didn’t start when we heard the news about IBM,” said Peter of Putney. “It started two years ago.”

“We’re all equally concerned about how we save jobs in Vermont,” said Shumlin in direct reference to Freed’s cheap shots. He called the Freedmeister’s attempt “to politicize the job situation” a “disservice” to all Vermonters.

We expect Jim Douglas and Walter Freed and their friends to steadfastly ignore national and global economic forces as they blame Democrats for any and all Vermont job losses during the current recession. They’ll blame Act 250, the permitting process and environmental regulation, too.

And if that doesn’t work, they’ll blame Bill Clinton. Republicans blame Bill Clinton for everything, especially their own failures.

Cable TV Worries — Adelphia Cable, Vermont’s largest cable TV provider, is in big trouble. Adelphia has the monopoly on cable in our major population centers, from Burlington to Rutland to Bennington. Nationally, the company has six million subscribers.

The company is run by John Rigas and his sons. They own the Buffalo Sabers hockey team and a chunk of the Tennessee Titans football team. Today, their books look like a TV version of the Enron debacle.

Trading in Adelphia stock has been suspended. Federal prosecutors in New York and Pennsylvania are investigating. So is the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Adelphia is a corporation that wears “family values” on its sleeve. Adelphia’s board, dominated by the Rigas clan, approved more than $2.6 billion in loans to family enterprises. How sweet.

Watching Adelphia go down is sort of personal. We subscribe to Adelphia — the only cable TV in town — and the company’s high-speed Internet link. What if Adelphia just pulls the plug?

Not to worry, says Christine Salembier, Vermont’s Commissioner of the Department of Public Service.

States can no longer regulate cable TV rates like they do telephone and electric rates, but Ms. Salembier told Seven Days that Adelphia must meet their “obligation to serve” under the franchise granted to them by the Public Service Board.

According to the Commish, “This means they cannot discontinue service under the terms of their Certificate of Public Good.” Salembier said “there are rules in place” that govern how a company would go about abandoning service. “Were Adelphia to do this,” she said, “there would be a proceeding before the PSB and consumer protections would be addressed and met.”

Salembier said she considered such a move “highly unlikely.” Why?

“Adelphia has a valuable franchise in Vermont,” she noted. “They have valuable property, a good infrastructure and a high market share for both cable and Internet… I don’t think they would move to abandon the franchise — that would only destroy the value of the asset. “

What about bankruptcy?

“If they move into bankruptcy,” said the Commish, “a buyer could emerge for the valuable parts of the company. We would intervene in bankruptcy court to protect Vermont interests.”

Ms. Salembier said her department keeps in close touch with Adelphia. “We’re watching for things like changes in capital expenditures that might indicate a deviation from their planned expansion of Internet access.”

The Commish said it’s “unlikely service would cease under any scenario.”

Comforting words for those of us “hooked” on TV and the World Wide Web via Adelphia. Stay tuned.

DeanWatch 2004 — Where to begin?

As we write this on Tuesday, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is in Iowa. According to the schedule update provided by his right-hand woman, Kate O’Connor, Dean will speak at a fundraiser in Des Moines Tuesday evening. It’s been another long weekend western swing for our favorite presidential hopeful.

Friday he spoke to a Gill Foundation Outgiving Conference in San Diego. It’s for financially endowed members of the gay community. High rollers.

On Saturday Ho-Ho addressed a Democratic Party function in Riverside, California.

On Monday Dr. Dean was in the land of slot machines, Las Vegas, attending a “policy conference” put on by the Democratic Governors’ Association.

Those are the events we know about because they were provided by Ms. O’Connor. She neglected to inform the press of Dean’s Sunday speech to yet another gay organization. According to The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, Gov. Dean addressed 75 members of the Desert Stonewall Democrats over brunch.

Mediawise, Ho-Ho got a couple good hits Tuesday in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. In what clearly appears to be a case of Howard Dean leading and Sen. Joe Lieberman following, Al Gore’s former running mate called for a rollback of major portions of the Bush tax cut. The L.A. Times called Lieberman “the first prominent Democrat considering a 2004 presidential race to challenge the centerpiece of the administration’s domestic agenda.”

The key word there is “prominent.” Ho-Ho ain’t prominent, yet, but the paper gave credit where credit’s due. “Among Democrats exploring a presidential campaign, only Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who has little name recognition outside his own state, previously has urged that the tax cut be significantly altered,” the paper reported.

Keep mentioning him and the name recognition keeps growing. Then the curiosity builds and, suddenly, Ho-Ho’s mug will start showing up in the magazines you finds in dentists’ waiting rooms.

The Washington Post also acknowledged Dean, reporting that “among those thinking of running for president in 2004, only Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has staked out a similar position.”

A certain national magazine writer was up from D.C. last week to research a story on our boy Howard. Spent all of last Wednes-day with Ho-Ho and came away quite impressed. He described Dean to us as a straight talker in the John McCain tradition.


New Mouthpiece — Actually, Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders does his own talking in Vermont, but it helps to have a savvy press secretary to handle the national press.

Joel Barkin, 26, is the latest to fill that position at Ol’ Bernardo’s Capitol Hill office. Mr. Barkin is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and spent three years at AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC is the powerful pro-Israel lobby that Capitol Hill lawmakers, especially those seeking national office, genuflect to. Joel left as national field coordinator. A very sharp guy.

As for his new boss, Vermont’s lone congressman, Barkin told Seven Days, “I have a lot of respect for his politics.” Sanders, he said, “wants to be part of the national debate.”

Bernie’s latest target is the little-known federal agency called the Export-Import Bank. It has a $1 billion annual budget and the power to guarantee $15.5 billion in loans to multi-national corporations like Mobil, Enron, Gen-eral Electric, General Motors and AT&T. Sanders says the bank represents “one of the most egregious forms of corporate welfare” you’ll ever see.

At a recent hearing of the Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade, Bernie enthusiastically challenged his colleagues to explain why the Export-Import Bank should make huge loans to corporations that lay off American workers by the thousands and move jobs to China.

”I think we need to rethink the whole process,” said Vermont’s congressman. “I think we should provide help to those companies that are committed to the well-being of American workers. Many of these corporations are not. They should not receive our subsidies.”

Not a radical idea, is it?

Committee member Jan Schakowsky, a Chicago Demo-crat, certainly doesn’t think so.

“I think taxpayers rightfully may question,” said Schakowsky, “especially those, as Mr. Sanders mentioned, who may be out of a job from one of the very companies that is receiving support for their work overseas. It seems a little bit like we are using taxpayer dollars and pouring salt into a very painful wound.”

No kidding.

Also in Bernie land, Chief of Staff Jeff Weaver continues his recovery from a nasty leg break in February. He was climbing over a fence on a country walk in Virginia at the time. Mr. Weaver is finally able to drive a car (while talking on his cell phone, of course), and expects to throw away the crutches in another four to six weeks.

One other thing. During our telephone conversations with the folks at Bernie’s Capitol Hill office this week, there were clicks on the line every 20 to 30 seconds or so. The clicks could be heard on both ends. Weaver assured us he wasn’t worried and joked, “John Ashcroft sits down in the basement listening in.”

Always wondered what Ashcroft really did.

Reality Check — Swung by the spacious Palace of Justice on Cherry Street Monday to check on the local branch of Vermont’s criminal justice system. Monday’s the big cattle call, and 45 Vermonters were scheduled for arraignment on criminal charges. They entered their pleas of guilty or not guilty. First-time offenders are often eligible for court diversion. What’s the number-one crime this week?

Would you believe — beer?

Of the 45 cases on the docket, eight were for possession of malt beverages by a minor. That’s a 20-year-old with a Budweiser. Shocking!

How about number two?

They say the War on Drugs is only after the big dealers, but we know that just ain’t so. According to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report released last October, more Americans became pot criminals in 2000 than there are people living in Vermont. The FBI reported 734,498 people were charged with marijuana violations. And of that total, 646,042 (88 percent) were charged with possession only. The number just keeps climbing.

In Burlington Monday, seven Vermonters faced pot possession charges. Add up the cop time, the prosecutor time, the defense lawyer time, the clerk time and the judge time, and we’re talking big bucks to prosecute illegal smiles.

Since 1990, six million Americans have been arrested on pot charges.

Five people were arraigned on burglary charges Monday, followed by “driving with a suspended license,” DWI and retail theft.

At the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, comedian Drew Carey told President George W. Bush he had told all his friends in L.A. he’d be meeting Dubya and asked them what they’d wished for.

“Legal pot and solar energy,” said Carey.

Let the sun shine.

Correction — As a child, yours truly had a cat named Kerry. We’ve even been to County Kerry in Ireland. And everybody knows Sen. John Kerry is the tall drink of water from Massachusetts who wants to be President. Last week we fell into the Kerry Trap and misidentified the former Navy Seal and U.S. Senator from Nebraska, Bob Kerrey.

The first three smarty-pants e-mails noting the mistake arrived from London, Rome and Washington, D.C.

Seven Days sure gets around.

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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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